Anti-Corruption Commission official says they are still ‘trying’ to make arrests
A number of top officials, mostly serving at crucial posts in the energy sector, are still roaming free even after being named in the charge sheet filed in the Barapukuria coal scam case.
The officials named in the case, over the 2018 scandal involving around Tk243 crore, even include a member of the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC).
The authorities concerned have also turned a blind eye when it comes to suspending them.
Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Deputy Director (DD) Shamsul Alam pressed charges against 23 former and incumbent officials and employees of the Barapukuria Coal Mine Company Limited (BCMCL) on July 22.
Among them are seven former managing directors (MDs) of the BCMCL — of them, Md Mahbubur Rahman, Khurshidul Hasan and Md Aminuzzaman have retired; Md Quamruzzaman is serving as the MD of Rupantarita Prakritik Gas Company Limited; Md Abdul Aziz Khan as a member at BERC; and SM Nurul Aurangajeb is attached to Petrobangla.
Aminuzzaman currently works at an energy-based Chinese firm.
Aurangajeb was serving as the MD of Maddhapara Granite Mining Company Limited when the scam was exposed in a news report late July in 2018.
Md Habib Uddin Ahmed is the only suspended MD who was serving at the post when the irregularities were reported.
Two more officials also faced suspension. The duo was general manager (mine) Abu Taher Md Nuruzzaman Chowdhury and deputy GM (store) Khaledul Islam.
At that time, Md Abul Kashem Pradhania, who was the BCMCL secretary (admin), was immediately transferred to the Pashchimanchal Gas Distribution Company Ltd as its GM (admin).
Shariful Alam, a former GM at BCMCL, was not primarily accused in the case, but his name was included in the charge sheet later. He has also retired in the meantime.
The 13 other accused are still working at the state-owned company, confirmed sources.
ACC still ‘trying’ to make arrests
When contacted, ACC official Shamsul said they were trying to arrest the accused, but did not clarify what was delaying the action since some of the accused BCMCL officials are still working there.
“We submitted the charge sheet at a Dinajpur court and hearing on this was scheduled in mid-August. But that has been deferred,” he said. He could not confirm the next hearing date.
Shamsul admitted that the ACC was empowered to arrest any public servant if they are sued in a graft case.
He, however, declined to comment for the sake of the investigation when asked whether they were set to arrest anyone soon.
He also declined to comment when asked whether, during their investigation, they knew about the whereabouts of the accused and what they were working as in the organizations involved.
“We did mention in our probe report that we could not arrest any of the accused,” he said, adding they did not consider looking into whether the accused were fugitives or wherever they were working.
Dhaka Tribune also tried over the phone to get comments from Energy Division Senior Secretary Abu Hena Md Rahmatul Muneem. But he was unavailable.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid Bipu, after the charge sheet was submitted, told reporters that measures would be taken against all the accused in line with the law.
“We’ll not intervene (in the matter),” he added.
BCMCL Secretary Md Saiful Islam claimed they did not suspend any of the 13 accused as they were yet to receive a copy of the charge sheet.
“As soon as we get a copy (of the charge sheet), we’ll take action according to the respective service rules,” he said.
BCMCL Deputy GM (human resources) Md Sana Ullah added that their steps would follow instructions from the ministry and BCMCL’s parent organization Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation, better known as Petrobangla.
Petrobangla Director (admin) Md Mostafa Kamal said the Board of Directors of the organisations concerned will take necessary action after receiving a copy of the charge sheet.
CAB seeks president’s intervention
Meanwhile, the Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh (CAB) on August 28 wrote to President Md Abdul Hamid requesting him to suspend BERC member Abdul Aziz as he was named in the charge sheet.
Only the president can suspend the chairman and any or all four members of the BERC since it is an independent body, claimed a top BERC official while referring to the BERC Act, 2003.
“But other officials can face any departmental action for irregularities or corruption,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
Citing an ACC report published in April, the CAB in the letter alleged that Aziz was also indulged in graft when he was the MD of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Limited.
Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said it was unfortunate that the chargesheeted accused were still working as public servants.
“They should have been suspended immediately after being sued in a criminal case,” he said, referring to the Government Servants (Discipline and Appeal) Rules 2018.
Especially, the lawyer argued, anyone belonging to the energy regulatory body cannot continue his or her job ethically and legally as the BERC is not a constitutional body.
BCMCL Manager (administration) Mohammad Anisur Rahman on July 24, 2018 had filed the case against 19 officials of the company over the disappearance of 144,644 tons of coal from the mine, which was worth Tk243.28 crore.
The coal’s disappearance came to light a few days before the case was filed, when a team from the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) visited the mine at Barapukuria and found that there was no adequate reserve of coal in the yard.
On July 23, the ACC formed a three-member probe committee, headed by DD Shamsul. After its investigation, the committee exonerated five suspects and included nine others, raising the number of accused in the case to 23.
Petrobangla never made an inventory of the supply of coal to the nearby Barapukuria power plant in 2006, since the beginning of the coal mine operation, said State Minister Nasrul Hamid on July 24 last year.
On July 22, then BCMCL secretary-cum-GM (admin) Md Abul Quashem Pradhania had said that they suffered system loss ever since the company started mining coal in 2005.
Five days later, former BCMCL MD SM Nurul Aurangajeb also made the same claim.
But the ACC investigation found that the massive amount of coal was stolen from the mine regularly, and the accused embezzled the money earned by selling those in the black market.