It all happened unusually quickly.
From obtaining a trade licence to getting a work order to getting a Tk335 crore bank loan took merely one month for Hasan Telecom.
The bank did not even complete the mortgage procedure of the 190-decimal plot of land offered as collateral before releasing the money.
The extraordinarily brisk manner in which the loan was sanctioned was allegedly a part of a ploy to embezzle the money in connivance with high officials of the bank who were abusing their power, according to a report of the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit.
The financial intelligence unit prepared the report at the request of the Anti-Corruption Commision that launched an enquiry against Hasan Telecom chairman Arif Hasan on allegations of amassing illegal wealth and money laundering.
The Business Standard has obtained a copy of that report.
The report, prepared in January 2020, claimed that a portion of the money has been distributed to several members of the bank's board of directors, and to some companies to which they are linked.
The report said the executive committee of the board of directors approved the loan without proper scrutiny.
The mortgaged land was bought from a company owned by the chairman of National Bank. But the survey company assessed the price of the mortgaged land at 42 times higher than the price at which it was bought, alleged the report.
However, National Bank's Additional Managing Director ASM Bulbul denied the allegation of the loan scam.
He claimed the loan was issued by maintaining all rules and regulations. The board of directors of the bank was not involved in the process.
The current market price was taken into consideration in measuring the price of the mortgaged land, he said.
Bulbul also claimed Hasan Telecom will return the money because they failed to do the task for which they took the loan.
How it happened
On October 28, 2018, Hasan Telecom obtained a trade licence from the Dhaka South City Corporation. It mentioned "export-import of telephone and internet" as its business type.
Three days later, they applied to National Bank for an overdraft loan of Tk400 crore on a five-year term. They attached a copy of the decisions taken at the board of directors meeting of a company named Buyer Media Ltd with the application. The meeting took place on the same day that Hasan Telecom opened their account at the bank.
The paper mentioned a work order of Tk477.96 crore issued by Buyer Media Ltd for Hasan Telecom for supplying machineries and equipment for DTH (direct-to-home) -- a digital satellite service that provides television viewing services directly to subscribers through satellite transmission anywhere in the country. However, the signatures of the chairman and board members of Buyer Media were scanned and pasted on the resolution, said the intelligence report.
On November 27, 2018, the bank approved Tk275 crore loan at its executive committee meeting. Later, the loan amount was increased to Tk335 crore.
Two days later, Hasan Telecom withdrew Tk100 crore of the approved loan. The remaining amount was withdrawn in the following one and a half months. He withdrew the amount from the bank's three branches – Mohakhali, Dilkusha and Banani.
The forgery with the mortgaged land
Twelve days after applying for the loan, Hasan Telecom's Chairman Arif Hasan bought a plot of land from Sikder Real Estate owned by National Bank Chairman Zainul Haque Sikder, the financial intelligence report revealed.
In the next three weeks, he bought two more plots of land from the same company.
The total area of the land was 190.2 decimals. The total price of the land, as mentioned in the registration papers, was Tk5.53 crore, asserted the report.
But the bank assessed the price of the land at Tk231.92 crore. Zaas Survey Ltd, the company appointed by the bank, assessed the price at Tk231.08 crore.
Investigators find it very unusual that Hasan Telecom opened the bank account on the same day that Buyer Media issued the work order, and that the assessment of the land was also done on the same day.
Where has all the money gone?
According to the report of the Financial Intelligence Unit, over Tk60 crore was transferred to different bank accounts linked to members of the board of directors of National Bank.
Of that money, Tk23.8 crore was deposited in the account of Rick Haque Sikder, a director of the bank, in two transactions, and Tk10 crore was deposited in the account of PowerPac, a company owned by National Bank chairman Zainul Haque Sikder and his two sons Rick Haque Sikder and Ron Haque Sikder, the report said.
Meanwhile, Tk20 crore was transferred to the account of Sikder Real Estate.
The report revealed Tk29.40 crore of the loan amount was transferred to the account of Desh Entertainment.
Another Tk10.28 crore was deposited in the bank account of Syed Qamrul Islam, owner of a company named Tectonics, who is also the CEO of PowerPac. The money was later transferred to the account of someone named SM Didarul Islam.
The report also revealed that Arif Hasan opened fixed deposit accounts with Tk160 crore. He also took out 95 percent loan against these fixed deposits.
The financial intelligence unit could not obtain information about the remaining cash amount of the total money.
The turning point
Arif Hasan appealed to the bank to allow him to repay the loan without interest after the Anti-Corruption Commission in November last year opened an investigation against him on allegations of illegal asset acquisition and money laundering.
ASM Bulbul of National Bank told The Business Standard, "Hasan Telecom failed to do the business for which they took the loan.
"They appealed to the bank to get the opportunity to repay the money without interest. The board approved their appeal in principle last December. The company has already started to pay the money back."
However, he did not confirm the exact figure that has been repaid.
The Business Standard tried to communicate with Rick Haque Sikder and Ron Haque Sikder about the matter. They did not pick up the phone. This correspondent also went to the National Bank head office at Dilkusha to get their comments, but officials at the reception said they were not willing to talk on this matter.
Talking to this correspondent over phone, Syed Qamrul Islam, PowerPac's chief operating officer, declined to comment on the alleged scam.
The Business Standard also tried to reach Arif Hasan, chairman of Hasan Telecom, at his Desh Entertainment office in the Mouchak area of the capital. But the security officials of the office said he has been out of the office for several days. Security personnel at his Gulshan residence, after communicating with Arif's family over intercom, said he was not at home. He did not pick up the phone when this correspondent called him on his cellphone number.
Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, former deputy governor of the Bangladesh Bank, told The Business Standard, "It is a severe irregularity. Even if the company pays back the money, it is still a criminal offence.
"The crime must be subjected to justice. The BFIU report should be submitted to the agencies concerned and the culprits must be investigated."
The Anti-Corruption Commission started investigating Arif Hasan in November last year. On November 18, the watchdog imposed a ban on his travelling abroad. Several of his bank accounts were also frozen.
The commission said they have obtained a lot of information on Arif's illegal asset acquisition and money laundering.