The Rapid Action Battalion yesterday detained Mohammad Rassel, CEO of the controversial e-commerce platform Evaly, and his wife Shamima Nasrin over allegations of embezzling customers' money.
A team from the elite force detained the couple during a raid at their Mohammadpur residence in the capital on Thursday afternoon.
Later, they were taken to RAB headquarters, RAB Spokesperson Commander Khandaker Al Moin, told reporters, adding, "We raided Rassel's house following an embezzlement case filed against them early Thursday."
A customer named Arif Baker had filed the case against them with Gulshan Police Station for not delivering him products despite taking advance payment. In the meantime, a Dhaka court asked police to submit the investigation report of the case by 16 October.
Earlier, fraud cases were filed against them with Sirajganj court, according to the Police Bureau of Investigation.
Evaly's controversial business strategy has come to the fore following a central bank inspection report on the e-commerce firm. Since its inception in 2018, Evaly has run up a debt of Tk543 crore to its suppliers and customers.
The detention of the Evaly owners, however, has given rise to questions about the fate of its customers and merchants and whether they will get their money back.
According to the Bangladesh Bank report, the e-commerce site's liabilities to customers and merchants were around Tk404 crore while it had only Tk65 crore in assets. Later, Evaly itself disclosed that its actual debt to customers and merchants is higher than the amount mentioned in the inspection report submitted to the commerce ministry.
Earlier, on 19 July, the commerce ministry sent a letter to Evaly, asking it to explain how it would clear its current liabilities to customers and merchants.
Later, in two different submissions to the ministry, Evaly disclosed that it owes Tk311 crore to customers and Tk206 crore to the merchants.
The commerce secretary then said they would have to go to court to pay off Evaly's debts from the money in its bank accounts or by selling its current assets.
Hard on the heels of a report published on 22 June by The Business Standard based on the Bangladesh Bank report on Evaly, a number of banks, including Dhaka Bank, Bank Asia and Brac Bank, suspended the use of their debit, credit and prepaid cards for online transactions with 10 e-commerce companies.
Evaly got the money in advance payments by luring people with heavy discounts on products advertised online and promising delivery in 7-45 days. Buyers, however, are yet to receive the items they ordered. Customers requesting refunds were given cheques that were dishonoured because of insufficient funds.
Allegations are also rife that apart from Evaly, other e-commerce sites like Alesha Mart, Dhamaka, E-orange, Sirajganj Shop, Aladiner Prodip, Qcoom, BoomBoom, Adyan Mart and Need.com.bd also took advance payments from customers and failing to send the products or refunds.
Eorange's owner Sonia Mehjabin and her husband Masukur Rahman along with the CEO Amanulah Chowdhury are now in jail in cases filed in connection with the alleged embezzlement of Tk1,100 crore from customers. Dhamaka Shopping's owners were also sued over laundering Tk117 crore.
On 19 July, the commerce ministry had sent a letter to Evaly, asking it to explain how it would clear its current liabilities to customers and merchants. Later in two different submissions to the ministry, Evaly informed that they owe Tk311 crore to customers and Tk206 crore to the merchants.
These e-commerce companies were enticing customers by offering very high discounts on various products.
Eventually, the authorities stepped in and took measures to regulate e-commerce companies after the central bank reported the mismanagement of Evaly and others. The new e-commerce guidelines mandate that in the case of a customer making advance payment using credit and debit cards of banks or mobile financial services, a third-party company that works as payment gateway, will hold the money until products are delivered.
Evaly seemed to be lying low after the government's new policy came into effect.
On July 28, Rassel announced that Jamuna Group planned to invest Tk1,000 crore in Evaly.
Later Jamuna Group retracted its plan to invest in it after analysing the beleaguered e-commerce company's assets and liabilities and business strategy.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Commission is now investigating whether Evaly misappropriated over Tk388 crore from customers and merchants. It has already sought related documents from several government organisations.
On July 17, a Dhaka court ordered a travel ban on Rassel and his wife, in response to a petition from the anti-graft watchdog.