A sensational fraud to swindle nearly $79,000 from a South Korean company has come to light that used forged documents using Rajshahi City Corporation Mayor Khairuzzaman Liton's name for a so-called procurement of eight fire trucks.
South Korean Shinshin Global Co Ltd (SSG) has claimed that Mayor Liton talked them into paying a total of $78,893 in bribes over the "deal", which the mayor vehemently denied while disclosing the matter at a press conference at the Rajshahi Nagar Bhaban auditorium on Wednesday.
"The Rajshahi City Corporation made no such deal to procure fire trucks. An international racket used nine forged documents, where they used my fake passport and fictitious names of city corporation officials before making the deal with SSG," said the mayor who termed the allegations ludicrous.
"It will be clear through proper investigation whether the SSG was duped by any third party or Byeong-Cheol Shin [the CEO of SSG] and his cohorts are trying to frame the city corporation by forging fake documents themselves," added Liton.
Shin and the company's Chairman June-Suk Han first contacted the Bangladesh Embassy on 25 January over the matter and the embassy officials suggested that they contact the city corporation via phone and email.
On 8 February, the SSG filed a written complaint, demanding a compensation of $3,00,000, or else it would disclose their claims to the international media.
On 11 February, Md Mizanur Rahman, commercial councillor of Bangladesh Embassy in Seoul, wrote to Mayor Liton to resolve the disputes at the earliest in the interest of upholding Bangladesh's image in the global arena.
In 2018 and 2019, Shin met with Mayor Liton to discuss the possibility of establishing a solar power plant in the Rajshahi City Corporation area. Shin floated the idea of procuring Korean-made special fire trucks. He claimed that the mayor showed interest in purchasing eight trucks and a $10.12 million worth deal was signed in this regard on 16 July 2021.
"Along the way, Mayor Liton insisted that he needed to get the agreement approved from the City Council. And under the excuse of that reason, the mayor asked me for $5000 to grease the Council members", Shin claimed in the letter sent to the Bangladesh Embassy.
"I got embarrassed since there's no such practice here in Korea, and nor anywhere in the world I guess, but I trusted him so much and with only the view to make success of this deal, I remitted $5000 to his friend's account in the Philippines by T/T as he requested on June 29, 2021," he added.
"According to the terms of the contract, SSG submitted a commercial Invoice for 50% advance payment of the total contract amount, and RCC officially signed the Commercial Invoice with also 'APPROVAL' stamp on it, and returned it to SSG on July 27, 2021.
"Day passed and day in, however the advance payment was not released to us. SSG urged payment several times, when the Mayor said, 'We need the signature of the Executive Magistrate Mr Md Shriful Islam and Budget Officer Mr Md Shafiqul Islam Khan to get executed of our invoice. I asked them to sign but they won't budge, so we might have to do something with them. Please send me USD 50,000-100,000 urgently,'" SSG CEO further stated.
"There was no way but follow his request, so I was forced to remit $30,000 to his friend Mr Lourdes' account in the Philippines on 17 august 2021," he claimed.
"In particular, according to Mayor they (Mayor Officials) pushed Mayor saying, 'we are aware of Mayor's taking commissions around one million Dollars from the fire truck supplier, so you should share a fraction of it to us'," reads Shin's letter.
"And the Mayor required some incentive for himself and his members around 2-3% of the contract amount when the transaction was completed. And one day May in 2021, I called him in this incentive then he required that all of communications should be communicated only by e-mail, since thus phone is very risky not safe due to the phone company keeping the calls.
"Despite of my cooperation with Mayor, he didn't send us advance payment, so I urged him several times to pay, but he said he needed to get finance from A&G Finance Ltd UK, because RCC didn't have enough budget to pay, and he asked me again to prepare $100,000 more this time for initial commission to CEO Mr Graham Dudley & Mrs Agnes Magarey of A&G Finance.
"I rejected this request definitely this time, but the Mayor seduced me by sending me a Wire Transfer Instruction which signed by the Mayor and the Budget Officer, P/F approval letter from A&G, P/F Agreement along with RWA of First Gulf Bank, and even a passport copy of the Mayor and Mr Dudley," Shin claimed.
He went on to say, "Seeing the copy of the Liton Mayor's passport, I became to believe him once again, and stuck to his instructions, I remitted a total of $43,893 BIT-coin to his wallet. But we were totally deceived by the Mayor. We've never been deceived like this before. Our company has been working on this garbage-like work for eight months for nothing, with cheated money of total $78,893 in cash and tremendous damage to our reputation and image which are invaluable.
"The above financial damage and operating loss are very large, but we demand at least $300,000 in total compensation considering the reality," Shin said.
In response, Mayor Liton said, "Although we informed the SSG that they had made the deal based on communication with a fake email address, and not by talking with me over phone or my email address, Byeong-Cheol Shin repeatedly contacted the Bangladesh Embassy and filed false allegations – thus my reputation and the image of the Rajshahi City Corporation was severely damaged. This is nothing but an elaborate ploy to tarnish Bangladesh's image."
He further said, "Firefight service does not fall within the tasks of the city corporation. There is a separate government agency – the Fire Service and Civil Defence – for this. Therefore, it is pointless that the city corporation would purchase firefighting trucks. The whole topic is irrelevant and illogical."
All purchases by the city corporation are made in accordance with the Public Procurement Act 2006 and 2008. Any procurement is done through due tender procedures. There is no scope to make a big purchase like this with government money without the official tender process. As claimed in this case, the $10.12 million direct purchase agreement with SSG is contrary to the government's procurement policy and is not realistic.
The mayor also said, in January 2018 SHINSHIN Engineering Co Ltd wrote to him proposing a 100MW solar power plant. After several discussions, the proposal did not proceed further.
"Almost 3 years later, on 1 December 2021, Byeong-Cheol Shin called Rajshahi City Corporation's Engineering Advisor Md Ashraful Haque to enquire about the purchase of eight firefighting trucks. He was then informed that there was no communication between the SSG and the city corporation over any such deal. He then sent a few emails with fake documents about the so-called purchase of eight fire-fighting trucks from his company.
Analysing the documents and the previous fake email correspondence, sent to Ashraful Haque, it was revealed that all email correspondence was done with the address firstname.lastname@example.org, which is not Liton's original email address. In reality the mayor's email address is email@example.com.
"At any time during the so-called transaction, Byeong-Cheol Shin never had any conversation with me or never emailed me at my email address," said the mayor.
"Scrutinising the nine attested documents that came with the Demand Notice, sent to me on 4 December, it was clear that besides the fake passport and email addresses, the name and identities of city corporation officials, used in the document were also fictitious," added Liton.
The documents also clearly showed the writing pad used is not the Rajshahi City Corporation's official one. No executive magistrate bearing the name that they used ever worked at the corporation and there never was an accounts officer by the name of Md Islam Khan Uddin, as named in the documents sent by the SSG.
"All this is clear evidence that the agreement is fake and forged," Liton said.
Among other discrepancies, the time zone in the email correspondence was GMT+1, which is neither Bangladesh's (GMT+6) nor South Korea's (GMT+9) time zone.
"The mobile number used in the documents is not mine. The photo used in the passport is clearly taken from either posters or Facebook. Therefore, the responsibility for the alleged transaction with the Korean company does not fall on me or the Rajshahi City Corporation," said Liton.
The mayor further said they have filed a general diary with the Boalia Model police about the matter and the city corporation has written to the Bangladesh Embassy in Seoul detailing the actual events.
"Legal measures against the racket are in progress and we will shortly file a case with the cybercrime tribunal," added the mayor.