The partners in dirty money
“This kind of corruption being backed by political influence threatens good governance, sustainable development, and democratic process.” – The High Court
The story of Tongi power plant has no match.
Installed with a capacity of 80MW in 2005, the power plant was able to add little power to the national grid as it was never fully functional.
Moreover, it has been consuming power from the national grid for around last four years. And for this the government has been spending Tk2 crore every month to keep the plant alive.
It has other bigger stories to tell.
Its construction was accompanied by abuse of power, bribe which gave birth to a dysfunctional power plant built with low quality equipment.
Money illegally amassed by influential people of Hawa Bhaban from contractors was siphoned off.
Change of regime led to a high profile money laundering case against Tarique Rahman, who ran the alternative power house during the then BNP government, and his business partner and associate Gias Uddin Al Mamun.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation in its investigation found evidence of money laundering.
For the first time in the history of Bangladesh, an FBI agent appeared in a Dhaka court and testified against Tarique and Mamun in the case.
The court trying the case came up with a dramatic decision in 2013.
It sentenced Mamun who had taken the bribe from a local power company to ensure that they got the work to set up the power plant.
But the judge acquitted BNP leader Tarique Rahman of the charge though he had taken a share of the bribe as he spent a good amount of the money abroad for shopping.
The judge wasted little time to leave the country the day he delivered the verdict.
The Anti-Corruption Commission opened an investigation into the allegation of corruption against the judge Motahar Hossain.
Three years down the line, the High Court scrapped the verdict that acquitted Tarique. It sentenced him to seven years in jail. Tarique, however, did not face the punishment. He has been living in London in a
self-exile since middle of 2008. Mamun has been in jail since January 2007.
Bribe or consultancy fee?
The story of Tongi power plant began in 2002 when the BNP was in power. The full story was narrated in the High Court verdict.
A tender was invited for installing an 80MW-capacity power station in Tongi industrial area.
Nirman International Ltd, the local agent of Harbin Power Engineering, a Chinese company, participated in the tender and became the lowest bidder.
The Power Development Board recommended awarding the construction work to the Harbin. But, the power, energy and mineral resources ministry refrained from acting on the recommendation for eight months.
In such a situation, Khadiza Islam, chairman of Nirman International, as she told the court in her deposition, made contact with the PDB high-ups.
The officials suggested that they contact with the ministry. The Harbin Company became annoyed because of the long delay and expressed its desire to take back its bid. They also tried to make contact with state minister for power Iqbal Hasan Tuku, but failed.
However, Sammi, the private secretary to the minister, asked them to contact Mamun as he had good relationship with the minister.
Khadiza Islam knew Mamun as they were from the same locality. She contacted him and informed him that their company became the lowest bidder for installing the power house but the ministry had not given any decision for the last eight months.
Initially, Mamun was reluctant but ultimately he talked with the persons concerned of the Chinese company and agreed to assist them in getting the work order.
After two weeks of such agreement the matter was placed before the committee concerned for approval. The committee approved it in 2003 and an agreement was signed between Harbin and the PDB accordingly.
Then Mamun asked Khadiza, as she told the court, to pay a consultancy fee as Harbin had agreed earlier. Mamun also asked her to make the payment to his bank account in Singapore to avoid further delay and complications.
As per the advice of the Chinese company she went to Singapore and opened a bank account with the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC Bank).
Harbin transferred US$7.50 lakh from China to her bank account and thereafter she transferred the money to Mamun's bank account with City Bank, Singapore on August 01, 2003.
Some other persons linked with the Chinese company also deposited more money in Mamun's Singapore bank account.
Mamun transferred in total $2.78 million amounting to Tk20.41 crore from his City Bank Singapore account to his account with Sonali Bank's Dhaka Cantonment branch. He then siphoned off a part of that money.
He was sentenced to seven years in jail for siphoning off around £4.18 lakh to the UK.
Tarique travelled, Mamun paid the bill
The caretaker government led by Fakruddin Ahmed requested assistance of the US under a mutual legal assistance request. The US reviewed the request to ensure that it was not politically motivated.
It sent an FBI agent, Debra LaPrevotte, to Dhaka to obtain information regarding the bribery case.
In Dhaka, she held a meeting with the Anti-Corruption Commission and started investigation with the permission of the US government.
As part of her investigation she discovered several bank accounts in Singapore.
Among those accounts she discovered a bank account in City Bank NA, Singapore in the name of convict Mamun.
Tarique Rahman's credit card showed that he used his card to pay his travel expenses to visit Athens in Greece, Frankfurt in Germany, Singapore, Bangkok and Dubai along with shopping and meeting medical expenditures. Tarique spent over Tk3.78 crore in between 2003 and 2006.
Mamun's account with City Bank Singapore was used to make the payments of Tarique's Visa credit card.
Debra LaPrevotte testified in the court in Dhaka in 2008.
The FBI agent said two credit cards were found from two accounts of Mamun in Singapore. One was in the name of Mamun and another in the name of Tarique. Photocopy of Tarique's passport was submitted to City Bank Singapore to obtain the second Visa card.
'Source of supernatural power'
In the verdict, the High Court said Mamun's alleged consultancy for providing/awarding the work order to Harbin Power Engineering Company for installing the power plant influencing and interfering the ministry concerned was nothing but an illegal, unauthorised and unwarranted act.
"A private person or a businessman like Mamun or Tarique is not permitted or allowed under any existing law, regulation or rules of the country to do such an act in the name of consultancy," it stated.
Mamun being a private person and an ordinary businessman had no authority to interfere with the internal affairs and works of the ministry.
"It can be validly presumed that Mamun made it possible as he was the close friend and business partner of Tarique and obviously, Mamun's source of such 'supernatural power' was Tarique Rahman," said the court.
"Obviously political position and might made them imbued to receive the said amount in the name of consultancy fee."
The High Court said it was to be noted with regret that Tarique belonging to a political class which was saddled with the responsibility of directing the affairs of the country had acted as a conscious part of the financial crime.
"This kind of corruption being backed by political influence threatens good governance, sustainable development, and democratic process," asserted the High Court.