The land of Destiny | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 06, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 06, 2012

Cross Talk

The land of Destiny

Six years after Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1777, Whig leader Charles James Fox was the first to mention it in the British Parliament. He mentioned it because he was impressed by a maxim laid down in that book, which stated that the only way to become rich was when income exceeded expenses. More than two centuries later the Destiny Group in Bangladesh added a twist to that game. Another way to get rich is to steal from others. All income and no expenses in this Disneyland of deceit!
They sold fifty million trees to unsuspecting people who didn't see through MLM (or multi-level mischief). This large number of trees would have required at least two hundred thousand acres of land but many of those trees were never actually planted on the ground. Investors who craved for a proof of their investment were shown pictures of trees taken from the Sunderbans mangrove forest. The demo performed better than the real.
This one deception has been a cross between the Ponzi scheme and the Potemkin Village. The Ponzi scheme, named after Charles Ponzi, usually entices new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The Potemkin Village was even more deceitful. In 1787, when Russian Empress Catherine II visited Crimea, her minister Grigory Potemkin purportedly erected fake settlements to give her a false impression of prosperity and happiness.
In a nutshell, the Destiny Group has been an alleged scheme of scammers that created illusions to inveigle investors. Yet only last year it was a major advertiser of the 40th anniversary celebration of Bangladesh's independence. Billboards and banners were everywhere, in some cases publicities were co-branded with the government. Now we know it was not celebrating the country's independence but that of its own. It was freely and openly taking this country for a ride and doing the fish in its own oil.
The company owns a newspaper, a television channel and God knows what else, although not all the trees it has sold. It rapidly expanded its footprints across the country because it knew people were waiting out there to be fooled. But how can we blame those victims for not being careful about the mischievous layers of Destiny's devious activities? They couldn't possibly know more than the finance minister of this country, who has famously claimed that his only knowledge of Destiny Group was that a former army general worked for it.
Fifty million trees can hide lot of space, and those trees might have pulled the wool over the minister's eyes as well. Yet when the man at the helm of our finances doesn't know enough about the fastest growing business house in this country, it's only fair to ask how many other things he doesn't know about. Newly surfaced evidence has contradicted his claim, because it appears that his ministry was in the loop all along. Once again, it cooked the goose for the incredibly shrinking credibility of this minstrel of excuses.
While the finance minister is a leading contender for this century's Rip Van Winkle title, the involvement of the retired general baffles us more. He is the former army chief, a stalwart of the Sector Commanders Forum, a vociferous voice of the pro-liberation forces and a conscience keeper of this nation. How could he allow his righteous fingers get so clumsily buried in such an infamous mess? Was he also suckered into a confidence game that layered him into the deception of millions of his countrymen?
Then we also hear about an advisor to the prime minister, whose name like a flickering apparition, hovers around this scandal. It can be said without insulting one's intelligence that a multi-billion taka scam involving millions of people carried out in broad daylight ought to have the blessings of a number of powerful people. We shall never know all the names, because cockroaches run and hide when the lights come on.
What will happen now? Yes, the Destiny Group has been at the forefront of many fraudulent propositions. But what will happen to the general who has let us down? What will happen to the shadowy advisor since now we see him and now we don't? What will happen to the minister who is famous for his ignorance? And, above all, what will happen to millions of people who have paid for the trees that are never going to grow?
Nothing happened to the stock market manipulators. Nothing happened to the syndicate in the commodity market. Nothing happened to those who killed the journalist couple. The MLM house has carefully chosen its name. Destiny is the word, mark it. It took us for many a ride, being right or wrong was irrelevant.

The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.

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