Police in Chattogram say determining the origin of the fire that burned 11 Baghdad Express buses at a garage on Thursday, and the extent of damage needs a thorough investigation.
Sub-inspector of Akbar Shah Police Station Mizanur Rashid, who visited the scene, said an investigation is underway.
Newton Das, deputy assistant director at the Chattogram fire service, also visited the scene. He said the fire service has not yet been able to determine the cause of the fire or the extent of damage.
Sohel Iqbal, general manager of Baghdad Group, claimed the damage amounts to at least Tk20 crore and a general diary was filed at Akbar Shah Police Station on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, Baghdad Group defaulted on Tk150 crore loans over the years, with bank officials now suspecting that the Tk20 crore damage claim is a trick to gain a loan waiver.
Mohammad Osman, assistant vice-president and head of Prabattak intersection branch of First Security Islami Bank, said Baghdad Group had taken out loans from the bank in 2013 to start transport business.
"They then launched Baghdad Express but it has not repaid the loans yet. They owe our branch Tk34 crore. To recover the loan, 60 decimals of land owned by the company in Sitakunda's Salimpur area was auctioned but suitable bidders were not found," he told The Business Standard.
Among other loans, the company owes Tk50 crore to Islami Bank's Agrabad branch, Tk46 crore to Rupali Bank's Agrabad branch, Tk12 crore to Bank Asia's Sheikh Mujib Road branch, and Tk11 crore to Social Islami Bank's Agrabad branch.
Saiful Islam, vice-president and head of Sheikh Mujib Road branch of Bank Asia, said the Head of Baghdad Group, Ferdous Khan Alamgir, started his business by taking out loans from the Sheikh Mujib Road branch in 2003.
"He borrowed in the name of Alamgir Brothers to import fertiliser but used the money elsewhere. After incurring losses, the company started dilly-dallying with loan repayments," he said.
"A case was filed in 2010 against Ferdous for not repaying the loan but due to legal complications, the money has not been recovered yet," he added.
Rupali Bank also sued Ferdous and his two brothers, Tanvir Khan Alamgir and Azad Khan Alamgir, that year for not repaying loans.
Baghdad Group launched its transport business in 2013, introducing 15 Mercedes-Benz buses on the Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar route. The luxurious mode of transportation generated buzz among passengers as only a few companies at the time operated air-conditioned buses on the route.
But the transport business was closed in 2018 and the buses ended up at a garage in City Gate area. Thursday's fire reduced 10 buses to ash while another bus was partially burned.
Sohel said seven of the 11 buses had been in working condition while four had been dysfunctional.
Newton said, "In case of such fires, if fire workers who were on the scene cannot determine the cause of the blaze and the extent of damage, the fire service usually forms a probe committee responding to a request from the affected party. The committee then investigates and submits a report."
He said the same will be done for the Baghdad Express bus fire, adding that the company had not made any request until Friday.
Ferdous hails from Chattogram's Raozan upazila. His father Ayub Khan was a fertiliser trader in that area. That is how he got into business.
At some point, he and his brothers branched out into: consumer goods, fishing, housing, and transportation. They took out loans from different banks for those businesses. Their bank dealings were initially good but they later started delaying loan repayments.
Most Baghdad Group companies have been closed in the past few years.
Ferdous was once a director of Union Insurance Company and Southern University.