Economic experts and business leaders have firmly opposed the government’s move to bring loan scammer Hallmark Group back into business, saying that it will encourage fraud, affect financial discipline and discourage ethical business practice.
At a programme in the city On Wednesday, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said that there was a plan to allow the scam-hit enterprise to resume business, adding that old businesses need a chance of revival.
“Hallmark’s business failed because of loan corruption, so they should not be given any facility do business again,” said Dr Salehuddin Ahmed, former governor of Bangladesh Bank.
He believes that they were not a genuine business group because they committed fraud.
“There is no possibility of allowing them to recover their business because they did not fail as a result of their own mistakes or for any other genuine reason,” he added.
If the government wants to recover money from them, it can put Hallmark under any other management to run the business, Salehuddin suggested.
“The Hallmark owner cannot be treated as an industrialist, because he was involved in fraud,” said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute.
How can a fraudster be referred to as an entrepreneur by the government? He questioned.
Hallmark committed criminal offences, and it should be treated as a criminal, he opined.
He must not be allowed rehabilitation in the name of rescheduling or through any other process, Mansur added.
Dhaka University Professor Mizanur Rahman said that providing a new lifeline to a criminal will further erode confidence in the banking system.
“This new initiative will decriminalise one of the biggest scams in the banking industry,” he said.
“We do not want bad borrowers to be promoted, but their business must be saved,” said Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
For that reason, if corrupt elements are removed from the equation with government mediation, it is okay to do so, she explained.
Providing an escape route to loan scammers will discourage good businessmen, said Abul Kasem Khan, former president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He added that the business community of the country never expected such a criminal getting rehabilitated in business.
The government should assess Hallmark’s repayment capacity before financing it further, said AK Azad, former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Meanwhile, Barrister Tanjib-ul Alam said Hallmark’s owners are being tried in a corruption case, and they will be punished if the allegations against them are proven.
How can these owners now run a business? He asked.
He also said that, as the allegation against Hallmark is about corruption, the group may not be eligible to get facilities under the new loan rescheduling package of the central bank.
Hallmark, the second top defaulter of Sonali Bank, has a defaulted loan amounting to Tk1,713 crore as of December 2018, which constitutes 3.69 percent of the total loans of the state-owned bank.
An investigation by Bangladesh Bank in 2012 found that the group had embezzled Tk2,686 crore from the bank’s Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch in the capital between 2010 and 2012.
Currently, Hallmark Group Chairman Jasmine Islam and Managing Director Tanvir Mahmud are behind bars in a case over misappropriating more than Tk1,568 crore from another state-owned bank – Janata.
Jasmine, wife of Tanvir, was denied bail in August last year in a case filed against her on October 4, 2012 by the Anti-Corruption Commission.