The Finance Division has moved to form a joint investigation committee to look into SB Exim Bangladesh's – a concern of Jhenaidah-based SB Group – alleged involvement in embezzling Tk200 crore abroad.
The committee will be formed with representatives from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate (CIID) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police, according to a notification issued by the Finance Division on 27 May 27 this year.
The ACC will lead the investigation, said the notification.
Earlier in 2019, an investigation carried out by the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) found that SB Exim Bangladesh swindled the state-owned Bangladesh Commerce Bank out of over Tk200 crore in the name of exporting terracotta tiles.
The financial intelligence unit sent letters to the National Board of Revenue's VAT Audit, Intelligence and Investigation Directorate, the CID of police and the ACC to take action against Shahjahan Bablu, chairman of SB Punno Group, and officials of Commerce Bank who were involved in the scam.
Later, the CID also conducted an investigation and found evidence of money laundering and embezzlement.
Following the findings, the CID arrested Md Yousuf Hossain Robel (42), commercial manager of SB Group, and Md Imran Mir (37), commercial officer of the firm, on allegations of assisting the group's owner Shahjahan Bablu in embezzling and siphoning off the money.
As per a case filed with Motijheel police station in this connection, Bablu used 72 letters of credit (LC), issued by five foreign shell banks to the SB Exim, to siphon off Tk238.74 crore through 188 export bills with the help of business associates and bank officials.
After investigation, the CID came to know the Jhenaidah factory even had no approval from the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation.
Moreover, Bablu, with the help of these officials, sent more than Tk2 crore to two companies in Singapore through a banking channel in the name of decorating those offices, said to have set up to run export activities and business promotion.
The two firms – Punno Gold and Diamond Pte Ltd and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd – are owned by Bablu, suggesting that he actually laundered the money to Singapore, as per the case statement.
Meanwhile, SB Exim Bangladesh showed 188 export bills without even exporting the terracotta tiles and brought more than Tk88 crore to Bangladesh through the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Dubai.
The CID investigation also found that banks that sanctioned loans to the SB Exim did not scrutinise any of his applications, export documents, export LC or the bill of lading.
Sometimes even without receiving the acceptance of the export bills, some banks took money from other branches and regularly gave out loans to SB Exim.
In spite of having two major investigations and proof of money laundering, the Finance Division recommended further investigation.
Recently, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal came under huge criticism after saying, "I do not have a list of money launderers. If you know their names, give them to us."
He made the comment in response to Jatiya Party lawmaker Kazi Firoz Rashid and BNP's Rumin Farhana's statement in the parliament that huge sums of money are being siphoned off.