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Bismillah Group gets to have its cake and eat it too

  • Published at 04:59 pm December 24th, 2020
Janata Bank's loan status

Janata Bank reschedules soured loans of the unscrupulous terry towel maker with easier terms

State-run Janata Bank has finally allowed the fraudulent terry towel maker Bismillah Group to reschedule its defaulted loans amounting Tk 560 crore and that too under relaxed terms. 

The application was approved by the bank’s board in a special meeting, said a person connected with the matter on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. 

“Bismillah Group’s defaulted loan is being rescheduled in accordance with the rescheduling rules and regulations,” Janata Chairman SM Mahfuzur Rahman told Dhaka Tribune. 

The group grabbed national headlines in 2013 for embezzling Tk 1,200 crore from five lenders. Of the sum, Tk 445 crore is from Janata Bank alone. 

In the seven years, the state-run lender has not managed to recover a single penny from the opportunistic terry tower producer, with the loan amount ballooning to Tk 560 crore, according to documents witnessed by Dhaka Tribune.

Last year, Bismillah Group, whose owners are absconding, had requested Janata to reschedule the sum by making a down payment of only 2 per cent under the central bank’s special loan rescheduling policy, which gives a repayment horizon of 10 years with a year’s grace period.

Under the policy, a maximum of 9 per cent interest can be charged but Bismillah had urged Janata to waive off the interest entirely, said a high official of the state-run bank seeking anonymity as he is not authorised to speak with the media.

Then, on November 18, Janata took the issue to its board meeting but no decision was taken in that meeting. 

But now, it has gotten the green light.

Abdus Salam Azad, managing director of Janata, did not respond to calls or text messages from Dhaka Tribune yesterday. The correspondent went over to his office yesterday but Azad refused to see him. 

However, a few days ago, Azad acknowledged that Bismillah was planning to resume its business by bringing in money from abroad and rescheduling loans. 

By allowing rescheduling of the bad loans, Janata would be able to recover at least a portion of the sum, he said then. 

Contacted yesterday, Md. Serajul Islam, executive director and spokesperson of the Bangladesh Bank, echoed the same.

Bismillah Group could not be reached for comment.

According to Bismillah Group’s website, its office is located on Banani 18 in the capital. The correspondent paid a visit to the property but no existence of Bismillah Group was found.

The company had folded its office several years ago, said the residents of the area.

At the earlier part of the decade, the export-oriented company took about Tk 1,200 crore from five banks including Prime, Premier, Jamuna and Shahjalal Islami by showing fake documents and siphoned off the amount to the outside of Bangladesh through fake letters of credit (LCs) between 2012 and 2013, according to an investigation report of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

Of the sum, Prime Bank lent at Tk 327 crore and Jamuna Tk 154 crore. The remaining Tk 274 crore has been given out by private lenders Premier and Shahjalal Islami.

After embezzling the money, Bismillah Group's Managing Director Khwaja Solaiman Anwar Chowdhury moved to Dubai overnight.

Jamuna Bank wrote off the bad loans of Bismillah, said its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Mirza Elias Uddin Ahmed. 

“Now we are recovering the embezzled money through legal action,” he told Dhaka Tribune. 

The bank has already recovered Tk7 crore by selling the mortgaged properties and has filed 10 cases against the group in Artha Rin Adalat (financial loans court), Ahmed added.

The high officials of Premier, Prime and Shahjalal Islami declined to comment on the matter, saying the issue is sub-judice.

In 2013, after an investigation, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed 12 cases against 53 people, including 13 officials of Bismillah Group and 40 bankers, on charges of swindling the sum.

On September 10, 2018, a Dhaka court sentenced Chowdhury; his wife Nowrin Hasib, who is the chairman of Bismillah Group; and seven others 10 years of imprisonment and fined them Tk30.7 crore.

But all the accused including Chowdhury and Hasib are now absconding. 

The High Court on February 25 directed the authorities concerned to issue a red alert with the help of the Interpol against Chowdhury and six others in a money laundering case.


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