Anti-corruption day: Cases filed, but no progress in probes
Several big loan scams in the banking and financial sectors came to the fore in the last decade and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has done its job by filing cases. But, no progress is apparent.
Since 2012, the ACC has filed more than a hundred cases against different business groups and persons over siphoning off of upwards of Tk 15,000 crore, records show.
But, the anti-graft watchdog could not submit probe reports in most of the cases, and subsequently, got the verdict in not more than ten cases.
For instance, in 2015, the ACC filed 56 cases on misappropriation of Tk 4,500 crore from the state-run BASIC Bank.
Seven years on, the ACC is yet to complete probes on the cases.
Recently, the commission has tasked one of its officials to probe the cases. Before the new appointment, three investigation officers probed the cases, said an ACC official.
While hearing bail petitions, a two-member HC bench on November 28 said: "Crores of taka has been embezzled. But no work is being done though the Anti-Corruption Commission and so many judges and lawyers are there. Why are they [ACC] silent? This is just like a drama. We are watching the drama. This is not acceptable."
This was not the first time that the HC has expressed its disappointment at the sluggish pace of the probe. In 2018, the HC said: "We have to cover our faces in shame."
The anti-graft watchdog initially filed the 56 cases without accusing the then BASIC Bank chairman Abdul Hye Bacchu and other board members. And only after directives from the HC, in late 2017 and early 2018 the commission interrogated Bacchu and some board members.
By now, some bureaucrats who were members of the then BASIC Bank board are retired while some are promoted to crucial positions in different government departments.
"You have to understand why the investigation has been slowed down… they do not want to bring the board members to the book," the ACC officer said on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly on the matter.
While the ACC is dilly-dallying, several investigations by the central bank unearthed the board's direct involvement in the scandal that subsequently took a heavy toll on the bank's financial health.
Of the Tk 4,500 crore swindled out of the bank, more than 95 percent was sanctioned by the board. In each case, the loan amount was more than Tk 1.5 crore, a sum the management cannot approve without the board's approval.
On different occasions, former ACC chairman Iqbal Mahmood said they were trying to trace the whereabouts of the money and it was one of the reasons for the delay in the probe.
The ACC also mentioned it in its report submitted to the HC on November 28.
Probes in other loan scam cases have made next to no headway.
Since January 2021, the ACC has filed 37 cases against fugitive and former managing director of NRB Global Bank Proshanta Kumar Halder aka PK Halder in connection with the misappropriation of upwards of Tk 3,000 crore from three financial institutions.
So far, the ACC could submit a probe report in one case, said ACC's lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan.
During the hearing of a bail petition in one of the 12 cases filed over embezzlement of Tk 1,175 crore by the Bismillah Group, the High Court on November 27 slammed the ACC for its failure to catch the big corruptors.
"They [major loan defaulters] are misappropriating thousands of crores. Why aren't you bringing them to book? Will the big loan defaulters remain untouched? The commission is busy catching small-time loan defaulters, but not the major ones," said the bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Khizir Hayat Lizu.
The HC also expressed disappointment for the ACC's failure in submitting a fresh charge sheet though the trial court had ordered the investigation officer to submit one in 2015.
Of the 12 cases, the ACC got a verdict in only one case.
A little-known Hall-Mark Group put state-owned Sonali Bank in the spotlight after its erstwhile Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch lent the company and five other firms Tk 3,547 crore between 2010 and 2012 based on fake documents.
A total of 40 cases were filed and so far, the ACC got the verdict in only two cases.
Some 15 cases were filed against Mahbubul Haque Chisty, former chairman of Farmers Bank audit committee, for swindling about Tk 3,500 crore from the bank, which has since been renamed Padma Bank, and five cases against Crescent Group for laundering about Tk 1,746 crore.
"These cases are under investigation," Khan said.
Investigations as well as disposal of the cases are taking time for want of documents and witnesses and legal complexities, said Jahurul Haque, ACC's commissioner (investigation).
"We are trying to expedite probes," he said, seeking cooperation from everyone.