Former BASIC Bank chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye Bachchu, who is at the centre of a controversy over loan scams and embezzlement at the state-run institution, first came to people’s attention when he was elected as a member of parliament (MP) from Bagerhat 1 constituency in 1986 on Jatiya Party’s ticket.
When military dictator HM Ershad was in power, he made Bachchu the ex officio chairman of Bagerhat Zila Parishad as well. He served as the chairman from 1988 to 1990.
With the newly acquired power, Bachchu became somewhat notorious in his locality for alleged corruption during his tenure as both the MP and the district chairman.
During the nine years of Ershad’s military regime, according to people of Bagerhat, Bachchu identified himself everywhere as the younger brother of late Naziur Rahman Manzur, a prominent Jatiya Party leader who also served in Ershad’s cabinet.
Bachchu, however, had no real blood relation to Manzur.
Born in Bagerhat’s Mollahat upazila, Bachchu is the son of Sheikh Abdul Halim, a sub-inspector of police.
Bachchu, who apparently was not affiliated with any political party during his student life, somehow managed to climb the local political ladder and became the chairman of Jatiya Party’s Bagerhat district unit.
He, however, left Jatiya Party after Ershad was forced out of power in 1990 and BNP came to power through the 1991 national election.
Enter BASIC Bank
After he was made chairman of BASIC Bank in September 2009, he set up unnecessary branches of the bank in Mollahat and Fakirhat upazilas as a show of power in the areas, locals said.
The government appointed Bachchu on contractual basis for three years, which was later extended by two years in September 2012.
However, after his appointment, the bank's performance had started deteriorating as Bachchu and other directors of the board indulged in gross irregularities by sanctioning loans violating rules and regulations of the Bank Company Act, said sources in the BASIC Bank.
The sources further said Bachchu used to boast about having a special relationship with powerful quarters in the government. Bragging about that relationship, he threatened many people who tried to protest against his corruption or illegal activities - i.e. recruiting and promoting unqualified employees and sanctioning illegal loans to little known firms.
When his tenure was extended in 2012, two BASIC Bank directors - AKM Rezaur Rahman and AKM Kamrul Islam - had threatened to resign in protest against Bachchu’s illegal activities.
They alleged that he approved loans that were not even discussed at the meeting of the board of directors.
In a letter to the then secretary of the Bank and Financial Institutions Division under the Ministry of Finance, the directors said Bachchu did not care about anybody else’s opinion, all the while running the bank on his whims. He also influenced every appointment and promotion of the employees.
They urged the government to dismiss him as chairman to save the state-run bank, established in 1989.
In October 2015, the National Security Intelligence (NSI) in a report said he was involved in a business of special lifts and motor parts. In 2011, Bachhu also entered the deep-sea fishing business, and currently owns more than 100 shipping and fishing boats.
He reportedly spent around Tk150 crore on 11 deep-sea fishing trawlers in less than two years after becoming the chairman of BASIC Bank.
Bachchu reportedly owns a five-storey building inside Dhaka Cantonment, but he does not live there. He apparently lives in a different building inside the cantonment.
According to the NSI report, he is still in good terms with Jatiya Party leaders and close to party chief Ershad, who is currently a special envoy to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Corruption, resignation and probe
On July 5, 2014, Bachchu tendered his resignation to Finance Minister AMA Muhith on Bangladesh Bank’s advice after its investigation found irregularities in approving around Tk4,500 crore in loans from four branches of BASIC Bank between December 2009 and November 2012.
These loans were approved by Bachchu without proper scrutiny and collateral against forged documents with fictitious names and organizations in violation of rules and regulations. The bank also gave loans to several companies and approved loans to clients soon after they had opened accounts.
Before him, the bank’s managing director, Kazi Faqurul Islam, was removed on May 25 that year after the allegations were raised.
Finding the allegations to be true, the central bank also recommended dissolving the board of directors of BASIC Bank four days later.
Finance Minister Muhith later in parliament said an investigation by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) officials found that Bachchu was directly involved in the loan scams.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Finance also directed the ACC to investigate and take legal action against Bachchu and the other embezzlers.
After conducting a probe for several years, ACC filed a total of 56 cases against 156 individuals in three police stations in Dhaka at the end of 2015. Most of the accused were officials of the state-run bank, and the rest were connected to lending institutions and bank oversight organizations.
But controversy followed when it was found that Bachchu and other prominent members of the board of directors were not on the list of suspects.
The ACC claimed that they had no evidence of Bachchu’s involvement in the loan scam.
As the parliamentary standing committee expressed disappointment with the ACC findings, Bangladesh Bank opened a separate investigation into the matter.
After a meeting with BASIC Bank officials in 2016, Muhith told reporters that the loan scam was nothing short of robbery. “Massive embezzlement took place in the BASIC Bank, and Sheikh Abdul Hye Bachchu was behind it. There is ample evidence. It will be easy to take action against him.”
In August this year, the Supreme Court also expressed discontent at the ACC for not naming Bachchu and the former board members of the bank in two loan scam cases.
The latest bout
After several rounds of observations and censuring from the apex court and the parliamentary watchdog regarding corruption at the BASIC Bank, the ACC recently summoned Bachchu and 10 former directors to its office in Segunbagicha, Dhaka for interrogation.
A nine-member ACC team interrogated Bachchu in the loan scam cases on Monday. The 10 others were grilled earlier.
After the questioning, Bachchu claimed he was innocent. “The ACC is still investigating the allegations and they have quizzed me in this regard. I cooperated and answered as many questions I could. If needed, I will cooperate more.”
Regarding the embezzlement that occurred in the bank during his term, he told reporters: “The investigation is underway, and the allegations levelled against me have yet to be proven. Let’s see what happens.”
The former directors questioned so far are Md Anwarul Islam, Anis Ahmad, Quamrun Naher Ahmed, Kazi Akhtar Hossain, Shakhawat Hossain, Kazi Faqurul Islam, Kamrul Islam, Jahangir Akhand Salim, Shyam Sunder Sikder and Rezaur Rahman.
ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmood said the investigators concerned would decide on their next course of action once the investigation is finished.