Inside the bank, it was in the air that something grossly wrong was going on at three Sonali Bank branches — Ruposhi Bangla, Gulshan and Motijheel local office — regarding loans to a powerful company named Hall-Mark. It was also in the air that some influential political figures were involved in the still unknown scams there. Yet the management showed no interest to audit these branches.
There was some solid evidence too. A test inspection report on the Ruposhi Bangla branch found irregularities in international trade. But it was “intentionally” left unattended on the desk of the deputy managing director, Mainul Haque. Meantime, plundering of the branch continued.
It was then that an honest, and some call him “a foolishly brave” audit official, (we call him Scam Buster to hide his identity) who became curious and wanted to audit these branches. He had no idea that his deputy managing director (DMD) would fight tooth and nail to stop him from carrying out the audit. He also had no idea that he would face intimidation from his DMD, Mainul Haque. And that he would finally be transferred along with two other key officials who fought for auditing the branches.
This story of corruption is part of a large, dark picture of a more than Tk 3,500-crore embezzlement by textile company Hall-Mark Group and five other companies in connivance with the bank officials.
The Daily Star talked to at least seven senior officials of Sonali Bank, from senior principal officer to DGM to GM. All of them came up with a similar version of how desperate Mainul was to stop the audits and how he used to introduce Hall-Mark Managing Director Tanvir Mahmud to officials even in the middle of meetings. And also how he intimidated even the managing director for allowing audit of the branch.
“How long will you keep on scaring us?” the managing director quipped at one stage of the telephone conversation.
This is only a part of the long story. But the long version is even more intriguing to show how a top official can protect plunderers.
However, the DMD in question, Mainul Haque, flatly denied having done any of this.
“People are conspiring against me,” he said. “It is actually I who unearthed the scam and it is I who ordered the audit.”
Facts however tell otherwise. He actually disbanded the audit team when it was on its way to the Ruposhi Bangla branch for auditing and set up another audit team with officials he is comfortable with. Here is the story:
It was sometime in January. The Scam Buster approached his general manager (GM) for permission to audit the branches in question. The GM heard everything and agreed about the need for the audit. But he said the DMD had asked him to wait.
The DMD’s directive was not to order an audit without his knowledge.
Undeterred, the Scam Buster refused to accept any verbal instructions and wanted it in writing.
The Scam Buster again talked to his superior, who warned him that he might fall into trouble for his enthusiasm.
But the whole thing was troubling the two officials, and they felt that it might turn into a full-blown international scam since foreign exchange dealings were involved. So they decided to issue an audit note when the DMD would be on leave.
The opportunity came on January 26. The DMD was not in the office and the managing director okayed the audit note, allowing the Scam Buster to move ahead with his plan. He was instructed to submit a report in a month.
It took him three days to receive a clear mandate in hand. On January 29, the audit official received an official order to go after the three branches.
But there was a catch. He was asked to audit the Gulshan branch and the Motijheel local office first. The Ruposhi Bangla was to be visited only after that. This shows there was a clear reluctance from all quarters to touch this hotspot.
The Scam Buster formed a four-member team and ordered inspection of the local office and the Gulshan branch on February 1.
Almost out of the blue, the DMD asked the Scam Buster to cancel audit of the Gulshan branch and asked him to meet in the evening. Around 7:30pm, the Scam Buster went to the office and met his boss, ANM Mashrurul Huda Siraji.
Siraji, a general manager (international trade finance), was visibly worried. Together they went to Mainul’s office. But Mainul had left by that time, probably thinking that the Scam Buster would not turn up.
And the Scam Buster passed a sleepless night. He was hell-bent on busting the graft as he took it up as a challenge in his banking career.
The two men then met the then MD, Humayun Kabir, and told him about the DMD’s wish to cancel audit of Gulshan branch. Humayun called the DMD and had a long argument.
There was a lot of persuasion and then at one stage the MD said: “How long will you keep on scaring us? My team will carry out my audit order.”
The DMD was begging more time. But Humayun dismissed him summarily.
The next day, the Scam Buster accompanied the audit team to Gulshan branch because the auditors were quite nervous. The report was completed and submitted to Siraji in end-March.
On April 1, the Scam Buster secretly wrote an order for inspection of the mysterious Ruposhi Bangla branch on April 3. He typed the letter himself and signed it without telling anybody because he had the trepidation that if DMD Mainul got to know it, he would try to stop it.
But the DMD somehow came to know about the move and asked the Scam Buster to meet him in the evening.
The DMD looked very agitated and asked him not to audit the Ruposhi Bangla branch because the deputy general manager (AKM Azizur Rahman, who was the main man to allow unchecked loans to Hall-Mark. He is now suspended over the scam) would not be available as he was travelling abroad. And the second man of the branch, Saiful Hasan, AGM, (also suspended over the scam) had a heart stenting.
“The presence of the DGM or the AGM is not required as we would just check the files,” the Scam Buster replied.
When the argument got heated, the Scam Buster said if he was to be deterred he would need an official letter asking him not to audit.
The Scam Buster came out of Mainul’s office and went home. At around 11 at night of April 1, he received a call from his boss, GM Siraji.
“I have been transferred out of Dhaka. You will also be shunted out,” said Siraji, who was transferred to Rangpur where he remains posted still.
True to the apprehension, the Scam Buster got his transfer order on April 3, the day his audit team was supposed to visit the Ruposhi Bangla branch.
The Scam Buster took out the still undistributed audit order, changed the date for audit to April 4, took out his name from the team and distributed the order to the team members.
But on the night of April 3, Nurul Islam Chowdhury, another general manager, instructed the Scam Buster by phone not to proceed.
At 7:30pm of the same day, Nurul Islam Chowdhury also asked the leader of the inspection team not to go to the Ruposhi Bangla branch.
“You must not go to the Sheraton branch [Ruposhi Bangla branch]. There is no need for an audit.”
In reply, the team leader said: “Sir, I have an official order in hand. I must go there. I have to follow the order.”
“I am the general manager. I am asking you not to go there,” Nurul Islam replied back.
The team leader then sought suggestion from the Scam Buster on the next move. “You must go” was the suggestion.
On the morning of April 4, the inspection team set off for the Ruposhi Bangla branch. As the team reached Birdem hospital, the team leader received another call from Nurul Islam Chowdhury.
“You will not go there. Come back and see me. I am asking you on behalf of the DMD [Mainul],” he said.
On return, the team leader wrote to Nurul Islam: “You called me at 7:30pm on April 3 and asked me again at 9:30am on April 4 not to visit the branch.
“You asked me and other team members to return, and we did so and met you in the headquarters.”
“But we have not received any official order to resume or not to resume our inspection. I am asking for a written official order to resume or not to resume our work,” reads the letter seen by The Daily Star.
Mainul then disbanded this audit team and formed a new panel with people of his choice.
As the DMD was doing all he could to block the audit, a staggering amount of Tk 1,860 crore was siphoned off the Ruposhi Bangla branch between February and May this year.