It is very common in Bangladesh that people show their property prices lower than the actual ones to evade tax and use untaxed money to buy properties.
If you want to know how low the land price could be, you have to go through the life of Mahbubul Haque Chisty alias Babul Chisty, a former sponsor director of the now defunct Farmers Bank and renamed Padma Bank.
One decimal land (435.6 square feet) cost him less than Tk4. You believe it or not, this has happened, on paper, at Goalgaon mouza in Bakshiganj upazila under Jamalpur district.
Also, Chisty bought 15 decimals of land in Palashtola mouza in the same upazila at Tk229, meaning that he had to spend only Tk15 for a decimal. Another 58 decimals of land in Kamalpur mouza cost him Tk7,032 or Tk121 per decimal.
Yet, on paper, Chisty and his family members have properties – including 326 bighas of land – worth Tk100 crore, according to an investigation of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
The corruption watchdog, however, believes the actual price of his properties would not be less than Tk1,000 crore, and could be even more if the present market prices are taken into account.
The ACC discovered this unbelievable story when it seized all of Chisty's moveable and immoveable assets upon a court order given in the last week of January.
Chisty is now in jail.
This correspondent talked to a number of people in Jamalpur about Chisty's assets. They said the information on buying lands at such low prices is completely unbelievable.
Even if one buys fallow lands in the remote areas, he cannot buy a decimal for less than Tk30,000, they said.
They also said anybody showing such low prices means he is concealing wealth information or buys properties with untaxed money.
The ACC investigation officers echoed the same view.
In response to an ACC appeal, the Special Judges Court in Dhaka in the last week of January ordered officials concerned to freeze and seize Chisty's wealth. The full verdict was published on February 4.
The ACC, after receiving the court order, sent letters to the offices and organisations concerned to seize the immovable properties and freeze the movable wealth.
It said letters had already been sent to district registrars, assistant commissioners (land), sub-registrars, banks, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, and the Registrar of the Joint Stock Company and Firms.
The ACC asset management unit oversees the monitoring of seized and frozen wealth. An official of the unit said the seized wealth cannot be transferred and the court order in this regard has been conveyed to the offices concerned.
"Money can be deposited in the frozen bank accounts but cannot be withdrawn. If the accused are found guilty by the court, their wealth will be confiscated in favour of the state. Then the state will take action in this regard," he explained.
The seized wealth includes 326 bighas of land in different areas of Dhaka, Jamalpur and elsewhere in the country worth about Tk22 crore as per prices shown in documents.
Of the immovable properties, the price of flats and buildings is more than Tk20 crore.
Besides, the accused have other movable and immovable properties worth Tk58 crore deposited in banks and invested in shares of different companies.
The court ordered to attach and freeze wealth possessed in the names of Chisty, his wife Rozy Chisty, son Rashedul Haque Chisty, daughter Rimi Chisty, Rashedul's wife Farhana Ahmed and Chisty's brother-in-law Mostafa Kamal.
The ACC in December last year filed five cases against all of them on charges of amassing illegal wealth.
In the last week of January, the ACC appealed to the court for making a list and seizing wealth of the accused.
The appeal said Chisty, during his tenure as the chairman of Farmers Bank's audit committee, had amassed illegal wealth by misusing his power. Later, he also made his family members owners of the wealth.
If the wealth is not seized and frozen, there is a possibility that it will be transferred, the appeal noted.
Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, ACC director and spokesperson, told The Business Standard the wealth was attached and frozen according to the court order so that the accused cannot transfer it.
Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir not accused
The ACC has been probing the Farmers Bank scam since 2017 and has reviewed the Bangladesh Bank report as part of investigation.
The central bank report said former home minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir and Chisty took share of clients' loans, and thus committed moral turpitude and fraud.
The Farmers Bank – which got approval on political consideration in 2012 – had been involved in irregularities immediately after its opening. It faced trust crisis and depositors started withdrawing their money.
As the situation deteriorated, Alamgir and Chisty were compelled to quit. They also resigned from the directorial posts.
Moreover, the Bangladesh Bank removed the bank's Managing Director AKM Shamim.
The ACC field a total of seven cases in connection with the Farmers Bank scam.
Of the total 12 cases, Chisty was accused in eight cases.
After the first case was filed in April 2018, Chisty was arrested by the ACC.
Though the Bangladesh Bank report mentioned Alamgir's name, he has not been accused in any case so far.