The biggest crimes in the country are being committed in the banking sector, said a High Court bench during a hearing on a case filed over money embezzlement in Islami Bank on Tuesday.
Such crimes are paralysing the country, said the bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Khizir Hayat.
"How will the country move forward if this continues?" asked the High Court bench.
Five Islami Bank officials accused in the case allegedly took Tk2.3 lakh in loans by opening fake accounts at the Islami Bank branch in Chapainawabganj's Shibganj upazila and transferred it to several other bank accounts.
While hearing a bail plea of four of them, the court said it would have sent the accused to jail, but since the amount of money involved is not large, it gave the officials a chance to surrender.
The accused in the case are Md Fyejur Rahman, dismissed official of Islami Bank's Shibganj branch, its former investment in-charge Md Abu Bakkar, manager (operations) Md Moniruzzaman Khan, head of the branch Afjal Hossein and junior officer Monowara Begum.
Monowara Begum did not appear before the High Court bench as she had already secured bail from a lower court.
The court rejected the four others' plea for an anticipatory bail and ordered them to surrender within four weeks.
Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik represented the state during the hearing and advocate Faujia Akter Popi appeared on behalf of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), while lawyer Dr Mahbub Morshed represented the accused bank officials.
ACC Deputy Assistant Director Sudip Kumar Chowdhury filed the case on 20 March this year at the ACC Integrated District Office in Rajshahi.
Banking sector fraught with irregularities
On several occasions earlier, the Appellate Division and the High Court Division of the Supreme Court expressed concerns over the embezzlement of money in banks. They also expressed concerns regarding the lack of investigation and completion of trial in the cases filed over such incidents.
The High Court had expressed concerns at various times that the money embezzled from banks had been laundered abroad and blamed the negligence of the parties concerned about it.
The hearing on a suo motu rule issued to the Bangladesh Bank, the ACC and related parties regarding the repatriation of the laundered money is still going on.
In March last year, a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh said irregularities involving Tk59,466 crores were identified from 2018 to 2021.
Of this amount, Tk31,000 crores belong to the state-owned commercial and specialised banks, which is around 52% of the money involved in the financial irregularities in the banking sector.
Besides, the number of irregularities in the banking sector has increased 16 times in the last nine years, said the report.
Last year, the ACC told The Business Standard that the trial of more than 2,000 cases related to embezzlement and money laundering of around Tk25,000 crores is still going on.
Big bank scams
Prashant Kumar (PK) Halder, who is accused of embezzling around Tk11,000 crore from various banks and financial institutions and laundering it abroad, is currently imprisoned in India. The ACC has filed more than 30 cases against him in Bangladesh.
In the four years between 2009 and 2013, Tk4,500 crore was embezzled from Basic Bank, which is the biggest loan scam in the country's history.
The ACC has filed 61 cases over this scam, but Basic Bank's former chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye Bachchu and members of its board of directors – who allegedly embezzled the money – have not been accused in the cases. Moreover, investigations in any of these cases has not been completed yet.
The Hallmark Group embezzled around Tk3,500 crore from the state-owned Sonali Bank through various irregularities, including fraud and forgery. The ACC filed 11 cases against 27 people over this incident, which are still pending.
According to a list presented by the finance minister in parliament in 2019, the top loan defaulting customer in the country is AnonTex, followed by the Crescent Group.
The Crescent Group has stolen Tk3,443 crore from Janata Bank in the name of loans. Of this amount, about Tk1,000 crores have allegedly been laundered abroad.
The ACC has filed 12 cases over Tk1,200 crore embezzled by the Bismillah Group, a towel manufacturer. The trial in these cases has not yet been completed.
Only a few of the cases filed against the former chairman of the audit committee of the Farmers Bank, Mahbubul Haque Chishti, his wife and three others in connection with the embezzlement of money have been completed. The ACC is still investigating the incident.
Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, told TBS, "The incidence of financial irregularities is the highest in the banking sector, according to research by different local and foreign organisations."
"The increase in financial irregularities in the banking sector is a big concern. If the persons responsible for these crimes are not brought to justice, the number of financial irregularities will increase in the future."