IMF anxious over Hall-Mark scam

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) yesterday inquired about the Hall-Mark loan scam and asked the central bank to be watchful in preventing such swindles in future.

হলমার্কের কোনো প্রতিষ্ঠানই আয়কর বিবরণী দেয় না

Bangladesh Bank (BB), trying to allay the concerns of the global lender, said it was not a banking crisis but rather an untoward incident that happened at a single branch of a state-run bank.

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The inquiry came when an IMF team, led by David Cowen, met the BB governor and his deputies at the bank headquarters in Dhaka.

The meeting kicked off the IMF’s two-week mission in Bangladesh to review the implementation of its conditions ahead of releasing $141 million, the second instalment of its $987 million loan, scheduled for November.

BB officials said the IMF team wanted to know of the central bank’s actions in the wake of the scam that helped the Hall-Mark Group and five other companies swindle Tk 3,606 crore out of the Ruposhi Bangla Branch of Sonali Bank.

The central bank explained in detail the steps it had taken since the scam was exposed and its next plan of action.

The central bank officials assured the IMF team that despite this being the biggest banking scam in the country’s history, the acts of theft would have little impact on the banking sector on the whole.

The BB officials told the team that the central bank had asked Sonali Bank to suspend the officials involved in the scam and to file criminal cases against them, and also asked the government, in a letter, to reconstitute the bank’s board.

The IMF team told the BB officials that the central bank would have to be cautious in order to stop a recurrence of such incidents in future.

NBR SCANS HALL-MARK FILES
The National Board of Revenue is examining the tax records of the Hall-Mark Group and its sister concerns, the group chairman and its managing director, to detect possible tax evasion by the textile-based company.

“Whatever we do is routine work. The CIC [Central Intelligence Cell] does it on its own. I cannot say anything about it,” NBR Chairman Nasiruddin Ahmed told reporters.

Hall-Mark Group’s Managing Director Tanvir Mahmud paid Tk 3.08 crore and his wife and group chairperson Jasmine Islam paid Tk 3.59 crore in personal income tax in the past three years, NBR sources said. The tax includes Tk 1.5 crore on their advance income tax.

The couple declared that their incomes came mainly from fixed deposit proceeds.

The NBR found they had concealed information of FDRs at several banks.

Of the 80-odd concerns claimed by Hall-Mark Group, only 14 obtained tax identification numbers from the NBR tax zone 7, the sources added.

None of the firms, however, submitted any tax returns.

“Non-submission of returns indicates a motive for tax evasion,” said an official of the NBR, who preferred not to be named.

Tanvir was called on his mobile twice yesterday but he did not answer.

However, Tushar Ahmed, general manager of the Hall-Mark Group, said the group was negligent when it came to handing in tax returns of a couple of firms registered as companies in 2007-08.

“We will submit the returns of these firms this year. In fact, we have already started the process in this regard,” he added.

Ahmed further said submission of tax returns of most of the associated companies of the group were only due from the beginning of fiscal 2011-12.

“We are preparing for the submission of returns of these companies as well.”

Asked, he said 28 firms of the group had been registered as limited companies with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms, while six had proprietorship.

With regard to the nearly 80 enterprises that the Hall-Mark Group claimed earlier, Ahmed said most of them were in the process of establishment.

In another development, the Anti-Corruption Commission secretary said the commission would interrogate 31 more Sonali Bank officials in connection with the Hall-Mark Group loan scam.

The anti-graft body has already questioned 31 persons, including 21 Sonali Bank and seven Hall-Mark Group officials, in this regard.

“It [the Hall-Mark Group scam] is a huge scam. Apart from the Sonali Bank officials, many others are involved in the swindle,” Faizur Rahman Chowdhury, ACC secretary, told reporters at the commission’s Segunbagicha office in the capital yesterday.

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