The Detective Branch of Police arrested Sharmin Jahan, the owner of Aparajita International, on Friday night for supplying fake N95 masks in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
Sharmin Jahan was also a member of the Awami League Central Sub-Committee on Women and Children Affiars.
"A team led by Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (Ramna zone) Mishu Biswas made the arrest," Mahbub Alam, joint commissioner of DMP Detective Branch, told The Business Standard.
Earlier on Thursday night, the BSMMU authorities filed a case against Sharmin Jahan for supplying fake N95 masks.
BSMMU Proctor Dr Mozaffar Ahmad filed the case with the Shahbagh police station.
Sharmin is currently working as an assistant registrar at the Dhaka University (DU). On June 27, her enterprise Aparajita International received a work order for supplying 11,000 face masks to BSMMU.
"Under the work order, Aparajita International supplied 1,300 masks on June 30 in the first batch; 460 and 1,000 in second and third batches, respectively; and 7,000 in the fourth batch. Though the first two batches were okay, the third and fourth consignments mismatched with the samples and BSMMU's specifications," BSMMU Director (Hospital) Brigadier General Zulfiqar Ahmed Amin told The Business Standard.
Aparajita breached the quality specification of face masks and hand gloves, said the director.
Brig Gen Zulfiqar also said BSMMU's contract with the enterprise was cancelled automatically for the violation.
"The masks that came in the third and fourth batches were torn. The logo and names on them were also misspelled," said BSMMU Proctor Dr Mozaffar.
Aparajita International supplied masks that had the logo of US-based multinational conglomerate 3M. However, the spelling errors raised speculations and BSMMU contacted the company.
"After verifying the barcodes and other product specifications, 3M told us those masks were fake," added Dr Mozaffar.
He said Sharmin put the lives of frontline medical personnel fighting the pandemic at risk by supplying fake N95 masks.
On July 17, BSMMU served her with a show-cause notice and returned the supplier around 959 masks, asking the company to replace those immediately. Two days later, she sent a letter mentioning that it had been a mistake and apologised – which Dr Mozaffar said was a "confession" to the crime.
Sheikh Muhammad Shamim, assistant commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Ramna Zone), told The Business Standard, "We have already begun the investigation. Action will be taken against those responsible for the scam."
How Aparajita got the work order
According to the case statement, BSMMU decided to purchase safety equipment on May 27 for its newly-launched Covid-19 unit. The deans' meeting of the university, on the day, nominated some companies for the supply.
The companies then provided samples to BSMMU and it forwarded those to Dycin International – a government approved medical equipment testing facility.
The lab ran a breathing test, particulate filtration efficiency, splash resistance, and bacteria filtration efficiency of the sample masks and found Aparajita's products to have satisfactory quality.
On June 23, BSSMU sought a price list from Aparajita, and the company subsequently submitted the quotation. BSMMU then approved the work order for the enterprise.
BSMMU Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Kanak Kanti Barua said the test report and price of the safety gear of Aparajita were satisfactory. Therefore, they picked the company as a supplier.
Did Sharmin use her political position to get the work?
When contacted, Sharmin denied providing fake products to BSMMU, pointing out that she does not manufacture the masks.
"We sell those masks after importing them. We supplied the third and fourth consignments on July 2 and July 13, respectively, and they were received by an assistant director of the hospital," she said, asking, "If the products were faulty, why did they wait one week before complaining on July 18?"
She also alleged that she was a "victim of a conspiracy" and that there are "big syndicates" in the hospital.
"This case will unveil other scams inside BSMMU," Sharmin further said.
"If the hospital authorities do not want to do business with me, they can just blacklist me. But they have filed a case. My lawyer will take necessary actions as this is a false complaint," she added.
Sharmin Zahan was a posted leader of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) – the student wing of the ruling Awami League – during her time at university, where she rose to the rank of Chhatra League hall president.
Sharmin was also in the Chhatra League Central Committee after graduation. She then became a member of the Awami League's Central Sub-Committee on Women and Children.
Although the case statement mentioned Dhaka University's residential area as her address, DU Registrar Enamuzzaman told The Business Standard that Sharmin is on study leave now.
But he also mentioned that Sharmin had recently communicated with DU authorities, asking to return to work as an assistant registrar.
"We do not know whether she owns any company or supplied medical equipment to BSMMU," he further said, adding they would look into the matter and take necessary steps.