Old habits die hard and a leopard doesn't change its spots.
The old sayings ring true when it comes to former NRB Global Bank managing director Prashanta Kumar Halder, alias PK Halder, who has been charged with embezzling over Tk11,000 crore, and was finally arrested in India.
After making his new home in the neighbouring country, it is alleged that PK Halder - who told the Bangladesh High Court (HC) in a letter that he would give back any money owed - had returned to his old ways.
After obtaining a fake citizenship, among other official documents, the scammer and his accomplices set up companies in India on the basis of those documents and also purchased immovable property at various places, including Kolkata.
The sensational arrest comes after a whirlwind of developments spanning years. But the saga is yet to come to an end, with a few legal formalities still to be completed.
Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan told media outlets on Saturday that Indian officials had arrested PK Halder around noon.
In an immediate reaction, ACC Chairman Mohammad Moinuddin Abdullah has said the government agency would try to bring him back to the country as soon as possible.
"We are glad that the criminal has been caught. Now we will try to bring him to the country quickly. This is our only job," he said.
According to various media reports, the arrest was made during multiple drives in at least nine places of Kolkata and West Bengal's North and South 24 Parganas districts by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), an investigative agency of the Indian finance ministry.
His lawyer Sukumar was also arrested during the drive.
But what is to happen next remains to be seen.
"We requested the Interpol to issue a red notice against PK Haldar. The ACC then said he may be hiding in Canada. But now I hear he has been arrested in India. However, we have not been officially informed yet. The process of bringing him back will be through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Any instructions we have will be acted upon," Additional Inspector General of the National Central Bureau (NCB) of Bangladesh Police Mohiul Islam told The Business Standard.
The Interpol issued a red notice against PK Halder in January 2021, following requests made by the Bangladeshi authorities.
PK Halder was hiding in a house in Ashok Nagar in the North 24 Pargana district, the ED claimed. It also said that it had arrested five of his associates, including his wife and brother.
"Now there are some formalities. If he has committed a crime under any Indian law, he will be taken to court there. He will be arrested under that law," said Khurshid Alam Khan.
Alam also noted that PK Halder will be handed over to Bangladesh under the Bangladesh-India extradition treaty.
"After extradition, he will be presented to a court in Bangladesh. Then a remand will be sought from the ACC," he added.
An extradition treaty between Bangladesh and India came into effect in 2016, enabling the two countries to exchange convicts or undertrials as and when required.
In the meantime, The Hindustan Times on Saturday reported that all the suspects arrested had fraudulently obtained Indian citizenship papers.
"The money siphoned from Bangladesh was used for buying a huge quantity of land and property in Bengal and Kolkata," an ED official said, seeking anonymity.
"The money was taken as a loan from various banks by companies that only exist on paper. Realising that they had been cheated, the banks informed the financial intelligence unit of the Bangladesh police that subsequently approached the Indian government," the officer added.
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PK Halder had been living in West Bengal posing as an Indian citizen. He used the name Shibshankar Halder after procuring a ration card issued by the West Bengal government, an Indian voter ID card as well as a PAN and Aadhar card, an ED statement said.
Some ED officials found that the suspects had set up companies in India on the basis of these documents and also purchased immovable property at various places.
The money embezzled in Bangladesh was siphoned to other countries as well, the statement said.
PK Halder, who has been absconding, acquired illegal assets worth around Tk426 crore in various illegal ways in his name and under various real and fake companies and individuals, according to the charge sheet.
To conceal the location of his illegal assets, PK Halder transacted money through 178 bank accounts. He deposited Tk6,080 crore in these accounts and withdrew Tk6,076 crore from those in his name and anonymously.
According to the ACC, PK Halder has swindled at least Tk11,000 crore from various organisations.
Sources at the ACC said the amount of swindled money they so far learned about during the investigation of the case may increase.
PK Halder has embezzled around Tk3,500 crore from ILFSL, Tk2,200 crore from FAS Finance, Tk2,500 crore from Reliance Finance and Tk3,000 crore from People's Leasing.
There is almost no mortgage against all these loans, so the chances of recovering the loans are slim, said the ACC.
After investigations, the ACC has already filed 15 cases with 15 more underway.
A charge sheet had earlier been filed against him amassing illegal assets.
A fall from disgrace
PK Halder's case came under spotlight during anti-casino drives in the country in 2019.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in February 2020 upheld a HC order asking the authorities to confiscate all assets and passports and freeze the bank accounts of PK Halder and his 19 accomplices.
Then in August of 2020, the ACC summoned PK Halder, former managing director of NRB Global Bank and Reliance Finance, over the embezzlement of Tk3,500 crore from different financial institutions.
A Dhaka court in December of the same year issued an arrest warrant against PK Halder.
This was a long time in the making.
The ACC in the same month had frozen the bank accounts – having deposits of Tk3,000 crore – owned by PK Haldar, and his 82 accomplices.
Sources at the anti-graft body further said that they had also identified more Tk1,500 crore which they said would be frozen.
According to ACC records, PK Halder, when he was the managing director of Reliance and an independent director of several other leasing companies, along with his relatives, misappropriated Tk3,500 crore from several leasing companies, including People's Leasing.
Halder sold assets of all these companies and took away all the money by selling the shares from the share portfolio of the depositors.
In May 2021, a businessman filed a case with a Chattogram court against four people, including PK Halder, seeking compensation of Tk930 crore.
The same year it was found that PK Halder had also swindled Tk1,300 crore from FAS Finance in the name of several companies that existed on paper only.
In August of this year, the ACC filed a money laundering case against PK Halder and his associates on grounds of laundering Tk36.37 crore.
PK Halder allegedly also siphoned off Tk1,000 crore to Canada, Singapore and India, the ACC investigation revealed.
Promise of a false return
The absconding PK Halder in September 2020 applied to the HC seeking assurances for his safe return to Bangladesh.
In the application, he expressed a desire to discuss returning investor's money.
Although the application did not mention from which country he wants to return to Bangladesh, it was believed at the time that PK Halder was in Canada.
During the hearing, the court directed PK Halder's lawyer to inform it about the details of PK Halder's arrival and said it would issue an order following the law after hearing the views of the state's lawyers and the lawyers of the ACC.
The court also mentioned PK Halder must be in the custody of the law after coming to the country.
Barely a month later, PK Halder changed his mind following his arrest order.
Confirming the news, ACC lawyer, Khurshid Alam Khan, informed The Business Standard, "He now resides in Canada. He cited his deteriorating health condition and Covid-19 are reasons for the sudden change of decision."
An escape shrouded in silence
The ACC on March 2021 informed the HC that the information provided by immigration department on how PK Halder fled from the country was not right.
During a hearing, the anti-graft commission told the court that they had sent a notice on time imposing a travel ban on the former managing director of NRB Global Bank.
Earlier, the HC, after receiving immigration department's information, had blamed ACC for the failure to arrest PK Halder before he managed to flee the country.
The ACC then submitted a counter report to the HC stating that the ACC's travel ban notice against 24 people, including PK Haldar, was issued on 22 October, 2019 and sent on the next day, which was accepted by immigration.
PK Halder, however, fled the country by road through the Benapole land port at 3:38pm on 23 October the same year.
Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police submitted to the HC a list of 67 police personnel responsible for PK Haldar's escape.