Fascinated and enticed by Destiny's campaign, Shamim Hossain from Nandigram of Bogura invested Tk17 lakh in the company in 2009 in the hope of making a fortune rapidly.
A seventh-semester BBA student of Northern University in Dhaka at that time, Shamim had no wealth of his own. He arranged the funds from his family's savings and loans from his relatives. But Destiny's promises proved too good to be true.
The return on his investment became an impossible dream for him when in mid-2012, two cases were filed against Destiny's chairman, managing director and a number of top officials on charges of illegal trade, money laundering and customer fraud. Shamim had to give up his studies when his lenders started to demand their money and he was compelled to pay back Tk13 lakh by selling his family property.
A devastated Shamim now struggles to survive with a small business in his village.
Unlike Shamim who is still trying to survive, there are cases of suicide, psychological breakdown and breakups in families over the ill-considered investments.
Eight and a half years after Destiny's shutdown, Shamim and the other investors of the multi-level company do not know if they will ever get their money back.
After the Destiny scandal broke in 2012, the government promised the customers that they would get their money back.
However, there is no government initiative in sight to ensure refund of customers.
The government also assured the investors about appointing a receiver to look after all the assets of Destiny. The receiver was supposed to oversee the return of the investors' money. Eight years later there has been no receiver appointed.
In 2013, the finance ministry announced the appointment of an administrator at Destiny. But that did not happen.
That same year, a committee was formed comprising the finance ministry, the commerce ministry and several other agencies, but no solid action from the committee was forthcoming.
Meanwhile, the two lawsuits filed against Destiny by the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2012 were related to money laundering and have nothing to do with the issue of refunding the investors.
The proceedings of the two cases are also going on at a snail's pace. The trial court assigned the police with the responsibility to look after Destiny's assets.
In 2015, the then state minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives informed parliament that crores of taka invested in Destiny by ordinary people did not go anywhere and that the investors would get all their money back.
But no one did.
Swapan Bhattacharjee, state minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, told The Business Standard, "No file regarding Destiny has come to me since I assumed office. Besides, there was no discussion with anyone about this."
If any entity of Destiny registered with the Department of Cooperatives is found to have cheated people, the authorities concerned will take steps after an inquiry into the matter, he added.
After the police took over the properties of Destiny, many of its institutions have closed down. Some that are still running are not producing any revenue. In the meantime, many properties have been dispossessed.
In this situation, the issue of refunding investors' money has become completely uncertain.
MLM and Destiny
The concept of multilevel marketing (MLM) model of business was introduced in Bangladesh in 1998 by the Global Guardian Network (GGN).
At one point, the government banned the activities of the GGN over allegations of fraudulent activities. Rafiqul Amin was the first customer of GGN.
After the shutdown of the GGN, it was Rafiqul Amin who founded Destiny in 2000.
After starting its journey with a capital of Tk12 lakh, Destiny-2000 Limited collected around Tk5,000 crore from people over the next decade alluring them with promises of high profits. The company went on with its highly dubious business openly and without hindrance for a long time.
In the absence of surveillance or action by regulatory or law enforcement agencies, Rafiqul Amin could easily build a huge network of Destiny across the country.
On top of the fact that there was no government initiative to rein in the illegal activities of the organisation, Rafiqul Amin got the help of the then influential ministers, parliamentarians, politicians, retired top military and civilian bureaucrats to expand the network of Destiny.
He made some of the influential people his business partners.
In 2012, information about various irregularities with Destiny began to surface. Allegations were brought against the company that it laundered around Tk4,500 crore of investors' money.
In the same year, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), after launching a probe into the allegations, filed two cases with the Kalabagan police station in the capital.
On 27 November that year, the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court ordered the confiscation of all immovable and movable properties of Destiny Group and assigned the police to look after them.
Since then, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has been maintaining Destiny's properties in Dhaka, while the company's assets outside the capital are being looked after by the district police superintendents.
However, questions are being raised as to whether police are performing this duty properly. This is because most of the properties owned by Destiny Ltd are now in a dilapidated condition due to a lack of proper care and maintenance.
Influential people have appropriated some of the company's assets. Moreover, most of the business institutions under the group are either shut or in a derelict state.
Assets of Destiny
Destiny developed 35 small and big companies across the country over a decade with the money invested by the customers. Among them, Destiny-2000 Limited, Destiny Tree Plantation and Destiny Multipurpose Cooperative Society were the biggest organisations
In this way, Destiny Managing Director Rafiqul Amin and his associates swindled most of the money out of the investors. He had 26 flats in Dhaka City alone.
Farah Deeba, wife of Rafiqul, owns a building at 25 Court House Street in Old Dhaka and another in Dhanmondi. There are also houses on Darussalam and Purana Paltan lines in the name of Destiny. There is a 5000-square feet flat on the 10th floor of Nasir Trade Centre in Bangla Motor.
The Anti-Corruption Commission also found plots and flats bought in the name of Destiny in Siddheswari, Khilgaon, Gandaria, Cantonment and Bhatara areas of the capital.
Destiny bought Ananda and Chhanda cinema halls in the capital with some Tk60 crore of the investors' money. It also bought more than 100 cars, and a private television channel, and also began publishing a daily newspaper.
Destiny has properties in 22 districts including Dhaka. Some of those are in the name of the organisation and some others in the name of the directors.
Outside the capital, Destiny has most assets in Munshiganj district. There are seven acres of land in Khulna, land for construction of Destiny International Business Centre in six divisional cities, under-construction hotel and shopping centre in Cox's Bazar, land for setting up Destiny Agro Industries in Gazipur.
There are 24 rubber plantations in Bandarban, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar.
From 2006 to 2009, Destiny collected Tk2,335 crore from its customers in the name of planting 81 lakh trees. Of this, Tk2,037 crore was taken without any trees being planted.
Present state of Destiny's properties
One might get an idea about the current state of institutions under Destiny Group seeing the present condition of the Ananda and Chhanda cinema halls in the capital's Farmgate area.
Destiny bought the two halls in early 2011. Entering the hall through the main gate, one would see the appalling condition of the once well decorated foyer. It is a garbage dump now. The plaster on the walls has fallen off, the seats are broken and there are piles of destroyed furniture piled in front of the projection screen.
The two cinema halls have not been renovated in the last eight years.
Even though Tk1.39 crore is present in the bank accounts of the two cinemas, over 50 employees have remained unpaid for the last four months. Police say they cannot spend the money deposited in banks as they do not have the permission of the court.
Meanwhile, law enforcement has yet to seize 81 of 125 vehicles owned by Destiny Group. Some people took eight vehicles into their custody after taking approval from the court. Police also are using some of the company's vehicles.
Walid Hossain, deputy commissioner of the DMP's law and media wing, told The Business Standard that they are using the vehicles after getting permission from the court.
Sixteen flats owned by Destiny have been dispossessed. Several pieces of land owned by the group are yet to be taken into possession by the police. Several petitions filed over the determination of land ownership are pending with the court.
Other firms of the group, including a milk processing factory and a cold storage facility, have closed down.
Work on a five-star hotel and a shopping centre in Cox's Bazar have been put on hold, leaving the under-construction establishments in an abandoned state.
Additionally, land development projects in different parts of the country are closed.
No reports on Destiny's assets
Police were asked to submit a report to the court every three months about the properties owned by Destiny. However, they appear to be lax in performing this duty.
Mir Ahmed Ali Salam, a lawyer for the Anti-Corruption Commission, told The Business Standard that police did not submit any report on Destiny's assets other than for the two cinema halls in the past three years.
Asked about this, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Nazrul Islam, said, "The accounts of properties owned by Destiny have not been updated due to the pandemic. We have started work on updating the accounts, but the work is not complete yet."
In this regard, a meeting was held at the DMP commissioner's office in September this year. Letters have been issued to the people concerned asking them to report on the latest status of the properties owned by Destiny Group, Nazrul Islam maintained.
He also said that many assets of Destiny are still dispossessed.
On 31 July 2012, the Anti-Corruption Commission filed two cases at the Kalabagan police station, accusing 53 people including Destiny MD Rafiqul Amin and its chairman Mohammad Hossain.
ACC lawyer Mir Ahmed Salam said 185 people have so far testified in one case.
According to the case statement, Destiny laundered Tk3,285 crore of investors' money.
The other case was filed on charges of laundering Tk1,389 crore out of Destiny's tree planting project. So far, nine people have testified in this case.
Rafiqul Amin is still in jail after he surrendered to the court in 2012 over a case filed by the ACC.
On 20 August this year, his second bail plea was also rejected by the High Court. At the same time, the court directed the trial court concerned to settle the two cases within six months.
Jailor Mahabubur Rahman of Dhaka Central Jail told The Business Standard that Rafiqul Amin is now in jail after having received treatment at Birdem and BSMMU at different times.