Two Dhaka courts on Monday remanded Hallmark Group Managing Director Tanvir Mahmud into the custody of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Rapid Action Battalion for 29 days for questioning over corruption and arms cases. As many as 24 days of remand were given against an appeal for 10 days remand in each of the three corruption cases by the anti-graft watchdog. Mahmud stands accused in 11 corruption cases over Sonali Bank loan scam.
RAB arrested this high-profile official in Bangladesh’s biggest bank scandal on Sunday night, and found five BlackBerry mobile-phone sets, a foreign pistol loaded with four rounds of bullets and over Tk 0.2 million in cash on him. The elite force then accuses Mahmud in two more cases, including for possessing firearms illegally, on Monday.
Mahmud’s brother-in law Tusher Ahmed, the Hallmark General Manager and the third accused in the corruption case, was also arrested by RAB in a house they were hiding.
RAB sought to remand Tanvir for 10 days in connection with the arms case. ACC lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajal confirmed,the Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court of Erfanullah granted ACC to remand Tanvir eight days each over the three corruption cases.
“Prosecution has appealed for 10 days of remand against each of the 11 cases filed against him. Three of the appeals were presented before the court. A total of 24 days of remand were granted,” said Kajal.
Tusher Ahmed was also remanded for 24 days over the three cases. The Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court of Keshab Roy Chowdhury allowed RAB to remand Mahmud for five days in the arms case.
In the three corruption cases, Tanvir and Tusher and others are accused of misappropriating about Tk 2.66 billion, Tk 2.20 billion and over Tk 450 million taken as loan by illegal means. ACC Deputy Directors Shibli, SMM Akhter Hamid Bhuiyan and Deputy Assistant Director Mojibur Rahman are investigating the cases. Lawyer Mohammad Ali argued for the accused at the hearing. “Hallmark did not draw the loan through forgery. Loan was taken showing original documents. We have taken the loan and it will be returned. We haven’t violated any loan condition,” said Ali.
He argued that cases cannot be filed against his client either under anti-corruption or money-laundering laws. He said his client may be accused in a civil case. Ali demanded arrest of those who approved the loan against Hallmark. In response, ACC lawyer Kajal said at the hearing cases had been filed against former Sonali bank Managing Director and a number of other high officials. Kajal argued Hallmark is a name-only institution like Anwara Spinning Mills, against which another loan was drawn from Sonali Bank. He said no institution in the name of Anwara Spinning Mills ever existed in reality.
Another lawyer for the defence, Kazi Nazibulla Hiru questioned the justification of taking their client into custody for remand when allegations were already proved against them. The prosecution could submit the charge sheet instead, he added. He said ACC law does not provide for remanding an accused. Kajal opposed the suggestion saying they sought remand in line with the ACC law that allows using criminals law with regards to remand.
On Oct 4, the Anti-Corruption Commission filed 11 cases against 27 people, including Mahmud and a former Manager of Sonali Bank, after investigations pointed to their collaboration in misappropriating over Tk 15.68 billion taken as loan through forgery.
A six-strong special ACC investigation team headed by Deputy Director Mir Joynal Abedin Shibli investigated the scandal.
Investigators are set to submit their reports before court on Nov 18, 19 and 20 in connection with the cases.
Before being produced at the courts in the afternoon, Mahmud and Ahmed were kept at the ACC headquarters, where investigators interrogated them once again. “We have questioned the two. They have given important information (Monday) which they did not talk about during earlier interrogation,” said Shibli. He said Mahmud has confessed to taking the loan against phony collateral. Seven of the accused are Hallmark officials while the rest are from the largest state-owned commercial bank.
The scam surfaced after Bangladesh Bank in May revealed branches of the state-owned commercial bank had given out over Tk 36 billion to little-known textile firm Hallmark Group and five other dubious organisations between 2010 and 2012. Hallmark Group alone took Tk 26.86 billion of the sum.
On Oct 2, Mahmud had admitted before a Parliamentary Sub-Committee on the Ministry of Finance that they took loans from Sonali Bank flouting rules. Sonali Bank suspended a couple of General Managers and 18 other officials on Aug 30 for their alleged link with the scam. The bank has also asked the Group to return the credit money.
ACC also interrogated Prime Minister’s Health and Family Affairs Advisor Syed Modasser Ali after newspapers reported that he had influenced the disbursement of the loan and frequented the branch.
The graft-busters on Sept 26 also quizzed several members of the bank’s Board of Directors who also held the bank’s management responsible. They said the board on Jan 2, 2011 had issued an order banning issue of Inland Bill Purchase (IBP). But the Hallmark Group was given the loan violating that order as the board had based its decision on the information provided by the management.
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ACC, RAB to grill Tanvir for 29 days