The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has information that Syed Modasser Ali, an adviser to the prime minister, allegedly influenced Sonali Bank authorities into granting a huge amount of loan to the controversial Hallmark Group illegally, said ACC sources.
“The information came from different sources and we are examining it. However, we do not yet have any documentary evidence about the alleged role of the adviser in allocating to Hallmark and five other companies the loan,” said an ACC official wishing anonymity.
ACC sources said a few of the five Sonali Bank officials, who went to the commission office yesterday and were quizzed by a six-member ACC investigation team, also gave the investigators hints about the advisor’s involvement in the scam.
During the daylong (from 9:30am to 4:00pm) grilling, a few of the Sonali Bank officials told the investigators that they had seen Modasser Ali visiting the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch of the bank frequently, said the sources.
The bank officials said they thought the adviser might have played a role in influencing the bank authorities into granting loans to Hallmark and five other business organisations as he used to enquire about the development of the loan process.
Contacted last night, Modasser Ali, health and social welfare adviser to PM, denied the allegation. He said, “There is no question of requesting anyone to sanction the loan as I had no idea about the scam until reports were published in the newspapers about it.”
He said, “I go there (Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch of Sonali Bank) as my pension account is with this branch.”
He also said one of his relatives worked there and the branch manager was from his home district Gopalganj. “I happen to know the owner of Hallmark Group and attended some programmes of the organisation but I had no idea about the loan,” he added.
Previously, a Bangladesh Bank investigation found that the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch of Sonali Bank had lent Hallmark Group and five other companies Tk 3,547 crore between 2010 and May this year on forged documents.
Of the Tk 3,547 crore loan, Hallmark Group alone took Tk 2,686.14 crore while T and Brothers Tk 609.69 crore, Paragon Group Tk 146.60 crore, Nakshi Knit Tk 66.36 crore, DN Sports Tk 33.25 crore and Khanjahan Ali Tk 4.96 crore.
The ACC sources said they had also received information that Modasser Ali tried to prevent the Bangladesh Bank audit team when it went to the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch a few months ago from conducting an audit on the loan scam.
They said when the adviser came to know that a BB audit team had gone to Sonali Bank, he initially stopped them by using his power. But later, high ups of the central bank took measures to ensure the investigation by their audit team at Sonali Bank regarding the loan scam.
A Bangladesh Bank official also confirmed this incident. He did not wish to be named.
Asked about this allegation, the PM’s adviser said he was at the bank one day and it was almost lunch hour. He stayed there for a while as he was asked to have his meal there.
At that time, he came to know that a Bangladesh Bank audit team was working there as there had been a problem. But he was not aware of the problem, said Modasser.
The adviser said a member of the audit team talked to him about a problem and that he had given the Bangladesh Bank official his visiting card so that the official could visit him if he faced any difficulties.
Three of the five Sonali Bank officials quizzed by the ACC yesterday are from the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch that gave the controversial loan. They are senior officers Mihir Chandra Mojumder and Md Wahiduzzaman and junior officer Md Saidur Rahman.
The other two officials were Dhaka office general managers Mir Mohidur Rahman and Nani Gopal Nath.
The six-member ACC investigation team, led by one of its deputy directors Mir Md Zainul Abedin Shebly, yesterday quizzed the five bank officials as part of the investigation into the much-talked-about loan scam of the age-old state-owned bank.
The other five investigators of the team are Deputy Director Akhter Hamid, assistant directors Nazmus Sadat, Moshiur Rahman and deputy assistant directors Mohammad Mojibur Rahman and Zainal Abedin.
ACC sources said the aim of questioning the officials was to find out their involvement in sanctioning the loan and what they knew about the loan scam.
The sources said the ACC team would quiz all the 32 Sonali Bank officials who had been identified as responsible for the loan scam in the Bangladesh Bank probe.
Earlier, the ACC questioned eight other officials of the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch of the bank, including its Manager AKM Azizur Rahman, who is from the same district as the PM’s adviser, said the sources.
An ACC official said according to Bangladesh Bank rules, an official cannot serve as a branch manager of the bank for more than three years, but Azizur was serving for five years as the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch manager.
“We also have information from different sources that the adviser might have used his influence to keep Azizur Rahman as the branch manager for more than the stipulated period,” said the official seeking anonymity.
ACC sources said the bank officials denied their involvement in the loan scam but gave their statements to the investigators.
Earlier, the investigators quizzed the owner of the four spinning mills that were set up on paper by Hallmark in its own interest.
ACC officials said they would gradually quiz more officials from the GM Office of Sonali Bank Ltd and other top-level officials of the bank.