Sonali outsiders involved in Hall-Mark scam

Finance Minister AMA Muhith yesterday said many from outside the Sonali Bank were involved in the much-talked-about Hall-Mark loan swindle.

Without mentioning any name, he said those linked to the scandal have been identified following much investigation. And cases will be filed in this regard “very soon”.

He added it was a mistake on his part to say the crores of taka swindled out of a Sonali Bank branch was a petty sum.

“I have acknowledged my mistake, and those who don’t admit mistakes lack moral strength”, Muhith told reporters at his secretariat office hours before leaving for China last night on a 10-day tour to join the World Economic Forum meeting.

The finance minister replied to journalists’ queries on issues including Padma bridge funding, Grameen Bank and Mashiur’s and his resignation.

Recently, a Bangladesh Bank probe found serious anomalies in the lending of Tk 3,606 crore to Hall-Mark Group and five other companies.

Half of the loans, granted by the Sonali Bank’s Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch, were based on forged documents.

Muhith yesterday said it is quite impossible that such a grave offence committed but nobody in Sonali Bank noticed.

Replying to a query about extending the tenure of Sonali Bank chairman and directors for another two years, the finance minister said a three-member board led by the chairman will remain in office.

Muhith said a government official and a chartered accountant have been kept as board members and tenure of no other director has been extended.

A board is necessary for taking decisions on a number of matters, including cases regarding the scam, he added.

The minister said the Sonali Bank board will be reconstituted and decision in this regard will be taken on his return from China.

About the demand for his resignation, the finance minister said, “There are many demands like this …. But I have not taken any decision.”

About Padma bridge financing, the minister said, “We have been in talks with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) in this regard. I will speak about this after the talks conclude.”

About the WB condition of removing Prime Minister’s Economic Affairs Adviser Mashiur Rahman for funding the project, the minister said, “I will not comment on this. Talks are also going on with the WB about this matter. I cannot say anything about this at this point.”

GRAMEEN BANK

Also yesterday, Muhith defended a recent change in the Grameen Bank Ordinance, saying the government brought in the amendment to appoint a full-time managing director.

The appointment “must be done”; it has long been pending due to objections apparently from directors, he said.

The world-renowned microcredit organisation has been being running by an acting chief executive since its founder and Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus stepped down in May last year.

Grameen Bank supporters both at home and abroad and also the nine elected women borrower-directors say the change has been introduced to curb the authority of the majority of the board in choosing the managing director and give more power to the government-picked chairman.

The minister also said the law does not permit the power exercised over the last 27 years in appointing the managing director.

“The government allowed this in the spirit of letting a good thing continue. But there are two sides of the coin — one is the flexibility and the other is unaccountability,” he added.

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