Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has denied allegations that members of her family and party were involved with “corruption” in the Padma bridge project.
During an interview with Canadian CBC Television, correspondent Terence McKenna asked Sheikh Hasina: “Anti-Corruption Commission have accused you in previous cases to raise money through your sister, Sheikh Rehana. Here again, SNC-Lavalin was asked to pay money to your friends, family, is that not so?” “All concocted…completely false,” came the reply from Hasina, according to BSS.
Last year, Hasina had said in parliament she had no family other than her children, her sister Rehana and her children.
“Personally, I or the cabinet ministers or my government is not involved in corruption. We are not here to make a fortune. We are here to help our people,” she told CBC correspondent Terence McKenna.
The $2.9bn Padma bridge project was put on hold after the World Bank refused to provide funds following an allegation of “a conspiracy to exchange bribes.”
“Time and again, we asked for evidence and papers from Canada, and also from the World Bank. But we didn't receive any substantial evidence at all,” Hasina said during the interview aired on Thursday.
When the CBC correspondent said the prime minister was given names of the persons involved and dates of the correspondences, and asked what steps she had taken in this regard, she replied: “I gave it to the Anti-Corruption Commission and they started an investigation.”
McKenna pointed out that the ACC “recommended steps against all officials involved,” but Sheikh Hasina insisted: “Our Anti-Corruption Commission works independently. We never interfere.”
The premier also claimed that the World Bank itself said there was no corruption; there was “only a conspiracy of corruption.”
When the CBC reporter highlighted the allegation that then communication minister, Abul Hossain, was raising money for the party, calling him the Awami League’s “cashier,” Sheikh Hasina refuted it: “In our party, he is not the person to raise money. If anybody says so, they are wrong, totally wrong.”
The prime minister said the scandal did not strain the country's relations with international donors.
“Other projects of World Bank in the country are going smoothly,” she said.
Hasina said the bridge was important for the economy of the southern region of the country. “The Awami League is working very hard to develop the country.”
Meanwhile, a two-member Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) team flew to Canada yesterday to collect information on corruption over the appointment of a supervising consultant for the Padma bridge project and quiz senior officials of SNC-Lavalin.
Earlier, Mohammad Ismail, a former international engineer at Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, told Canadian media that the company had kept aside special funds that it intended to use to bribe Bangladesh officials to win the Padma bridge contract.
CBC News and the Globe and Mail – in a joint investigation revealed that SNC-Lavalin used secret codes to pay bribes to get the contracts of design and supervision.
SNC-Lavalin officials Ramesh Saha and Mohammad Ismail are now facing trial in a Toronto court for attempting bribery in the project. A preliminary hearing of the case was held last month and the next date is May 29.
Ramesh Saha’s diary contained a list of Bangladeshi citizens who were to receive 10-12% commission for awarding the contract to SNC-Lavalin.
The diary said: “Padma PCC, 4% Min, 2% Kaiser, 2% Nixon, 1% Secretary and 1% Moshi Rahman.”
According to the documents, “Min” referred to former communication minister Syed Abul Hossain; “Kaiser” is former state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury; “Nixon” is the prime minister’s nephew Mujibur Rahman; “Secretary” is former Bridges Division secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan; and “Moshi Rahman” is the prime minister’s economic affairs advisor Mashiur Rahman.
Another 2% was kept for someone; but the name was not available.
Last month, the World Bank banned SNC-Lavalin and all its subsidiaries for the next 10 years from bidding on any project funded by the lending agency, citing the company’s misconduct in Bangladesh and Cambodia.