Crescent Cooperative Bank Limited of Chattogram has closed down after swindling around Tk10 crore from its customers.
The bank commandeered the money from about 2,000 customers of its five branches in the port city. The customers have been going from door to door for the last one year to recover their money but in vain.
Shawpan Kanti Debanath, a vegetable seller from Phailyatli Bazar at Halishahar in Chattogram, deposited all his family's earnings in the bank.
He told The Business Standard, "All the savings of my family amounting to Tk16 lakh in total were deposited in the bank. The money I got selling vegetables for the last 10 years, my wife's money which she got by selling her land and the money my son earned through private tuition – everything was deposited in the bank. Since the bank closed down a year ago, we are at a loss about what to do."
Ratna Rani Debi, who opened an FDR account with the bank, told TBS, "I lost my job at a garment factory during the pandemic. I did not look for another job as I am aged now and suffering from breathing problems. My son has a low-paying job. In February 2019, I opened an FDR account for a year by depositing Tk2 lakh. It has become very difficult for me to run the family now as I cannot get that money back."
According to sources, Crescent Cooperative Bank Limited started its business in 2000 at Mannan Bhaban at Jubilee Road in the city. Later, it opened four more branches at Halishahar, Bakalia, Chatteswari and Dewanhat.
Customers of the bank alleged that they deposited money as it had the signboard of a bank. But in December 2020, the organisation suddenly closed its five branches, taking away about Tk10cr deposited by 2,000 customers. Since then, repeated attempts made by the customers, calling the branch managers over the phone, failed to bring about any fruitful solution.
Habib Ullah, a customer of the bank's Jubilee Road branch, said, "A letter has been sent to the Kotwali Thana cooperative officer attaching the list of the customers of five branches and the amount of money they had deposited. We are also preparing to file a case against the top officials of the organisation."
When contacted, Kotwali Thana Cooperative Officer Anisul Islam said, "I have received the letter from the customers, but we do not have much to do in this regard."
Explaining the reason behind his inability to help the customers, he said Crescent Cooperative Bank was first registered as a cooperative organisation named Crescent Cooperative Society Limited.
"The members of the organisation illegally transformed it into a so-called bank with an aim to deceive the customers. Without following the formal procedure of setting up a bank, without any approval of the Bangladesh Bank, they just changed the name of the organisation from Society to Bank," he said.
Upon learning of the matter, the cooperative authorities cancelled Crescent's registration. In response, it went to the High Court and obtained a stay order on the cancellation. "Consequently, there is no opportunity for the cooperative authorities to take any action in this regard," said Anisul Islam.
Jafar Alam, branch manager of Crescent Cooperative Bank's Bakalia branch, told TBS on Friday, "The owners of the bank closed down its branches last December. Customers call us almost every day for the money they have deposited. But we cannot say anything. Even our officers and employees have salary arrears of 8-9 months."
The bank's Vice Chairman, Md Jahangir Alam, said, "We could not collect the installment from the borrowers during the lockdown imposed to tackle the ongoing pandemic. Besides, we already had a lot of money stuck with borrowers. That is why we were forced to shut down the bank.
In reply to a query over how the bank authorities would refund the money of the customers, he said, "As we will not be able to give the interest, we are now trying to at least give back the capital to the customers."
"The matter will be resolved very soon," he held out the assurance.