A parliamentary probe on the Hallmark scam may have been in vain because the head of the official body that ordered the enquiry seems reluctant to take action against offenders.
A sub-committee of the parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry was formed to inquire into one of the country’s biggest financial scandals, involving over Tk35.47bn. The findings were submitted to the parent body on December 12, 2012.
However, the committee’s chairman AHM Mustafa Kamal has declined to place the findings before the standing committee at any of the three meetings held since the report was submitted. Based on the findings the finance ministry’s parliamentary standing committee will make recommendations to the government.
At the last meeting on April 11, parliamentary records do not indicate the findings were discussed. Head of the inquiry committee Tajul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune, “We have submitted the report to the chairman, now it is his duty to place it before the (parent) committee.”
Only if the report is approved, the standing committee will forward it to the Ministry of Finance for necessary action, he clarified. But Mustafa Kamal told the Dhaka Tribune the reason the report was not raised was “because the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has filed cases related to the issue so we cannot discuss it further.” He claimed, “If we discuss it, we may face difficulty.”
Meanwhile, Tajul Islam and another member of the sub-committee AKM Mayeedul Islam, contradicted Mustafa Kamal’s statement. According to Mayeedul Islam, a Jatiya Party MP from Kurigrgam, “There is no bar on discussing the matter at the standing committee meetings as per the rules of procedure.” He stated further, “His (Kamal’s) interpretation is not correct.
Parliament is sovereign, it is not under the anti-corruption commission.”
Tajul Islam echoed the JP lawmaker’s opinion saying, “The ACC filed the case immediately after the scam was discovered.
Why did he (Kamal) form the inquiry committee if it was sub judice?”
Awami League lawmakers MA Mannan from Sunamganj and Golam Dastagir Gazi from Narayanganj are the other members of the sub-committee, which was formed in September last year after news broke of the Hallmark financial scandal involving state-owned Sonali Bank.
In a copy of the probe report obtained by Dhaka Tribune, the Hallmark Group and five other companies are accused of using forged documents to apply for loans worth Tk35.47bn from Sonali Bank’s Sheraton hotel branch (now Ruposhi Bangla), between January 2010 and May 2012.
The report recommends the money should be recovered from the companies involved in the scam. The prime accused, Hallmark Group, is reported to have invested around Tk4bn, while pocketing the remainder.
In the report, AKM Azizur Rahman, branch manager of Sonali Bank at the time, was the mastermind, who sanctioned the loans using counterfeit documents.
It is alleged the PM’s special advisor Modasser Ali, who holds a ministerial position, had close ties to Azizur Rahman, with whom he attended a Hallmark event as “chief guest”.
The report states, “The prime minister’s adviser, Modasser Ali, used to visit the Sheraton Hotel branch of Sonali Bank at the invitation of the branch manager (Azizur Rahman), besides maintaining a pension account there.” It further reprimands the advisor saying, “It is not becoming of a person of his status to visit the branch more than one time.”
Mayeedul Islam stated, “We have not brought any specific charges against the advisor. On the other hand, neither have we declared him to be guilt-less.”
The parliamentary inquiry blames the entire management of Sonali Bank for failing to prevent the biggest financial scam in the country’s history.
The scandal caused uproar in parliament when the Minister of Finance Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said it was “nothing serious.”
Facing strong criticism from senior MPs, Muhith offered an unconditional apology to parliament, claiming he is an old man who may be forgiven for such comments.