Once a jewel in the crown of northern Bangladesh's hospitality industry, the region's first four-star hotel, Hotel Naz Garden, is now up for sale.
Wracked by the pandemic, on top of legal troubles, and the rise of a brand new competitor, the sale of the hotel in Bogura is a way out for its managing director, Mohammad Shokrana, who claims that many businesses have already expressed an interest in the hotel.
Speaking with The Business Standard, Shokrana, a former BNP leader, said, "I have been trying to sell the hotel as it has been incurring losses for quite some time. The pandemic made things worse.
"We set a price of Tk160 crore. The Akij Group has offered us Tk140 crore. On the other hand, Chowdhury Group bid Tk145 crore. Talks are underway with a few other business groups as well."
Shokhrana said the deal would be finalised once the desired price, or one closest to it, was met.
Akij Group MD Sheikh Bashir Uddin, however, denied reports of making an offer.
"We have no plans to buy the Naz Garden hotel and no proposals have been made in this regard."
Meanwhile, Chowdhury Group, one of the leading business houses in the country, has confirmed its interest in buying the Bogura hotel.
According to an official of the company, a bid of Tk145 crore has already been made.
The official told TBS that Chowdhury Group had invested a large sum to set up the Insignia, a luxury hotel and resort in Mudafa, Purbo Para area of Tongi. The group was looking to invest in a few more international standard hotels and the plans to purchase Hotel Naz Garden was in line with that.
The Chowdhury Group banner boasts Chowdhury Securities Limited (CSL), Bangladesh Thai Plastic Industries Limited (BTPIL), Crown Navigation Co (Pvt) Ltd and NEO Fusion Tech. Asif Alam Chowdhury is the managing director and CEO of Chowdhury Group.
The decision to sell comes on the heel of a number of developments, along with mounting losses.
During the early days of the pandemic, the Department of Narcotics Control decided to shut down the hotel's liquor supply – on which the hotel's revenue was heavily dependent.
Later, the High Court, following a writ filed by Shokrana, directed the authorities concerned to resume liquor supply to the hotel and not create any impediment over the issue.
Meanwhile, Thengamara Mahila Sabuj Sangha (TMSS), one of the country's leading NGOs, set up a five-star hotel called Momo Inn in the Thengamara area near Bogura city.
Business at Naz Garden has been declining since Momo Inn started operations, claimed local businesspersons.
Sources have also said that Shokrana has recently come under the radar of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and a preliminary investigation is underway against him.
Several leading business groups, who were interested in purchasing the hotel, backed out after learning about this, they claimed.
Contacted on Sunday, Md Moniruzzaman, deputy director of the ACC's Integrated District Office Bogura, said, "The ACC had received complaints against Shokrana a while ago.
"Investigation is ongoing based on that information. A report will be submitted after the probe is completed."
As no cases have been filed against Shokrana, none of his properties have been seized and there is no legal obstruction on him to sell off his assets, including Naz Garden.
Hotel Naz Garden was built on some 14 acres of land and officially started its journey in 2005 at Silimpur, adjacent to the Dhaka-Rangpur Highway, on the outskirts of Bogura city.
Shokrana, a well-known politician from Bogra, joined BNP in 1999.
He contested in the Bogra-1 constituency with BNP's nomination in 2008 and lost. In 2019, Shokrana announced his retirement from politics.
Chowdhury Group has contradicted some information of a news item headlined "North's first 4-star hotel Naz Garden up for grabs" published in The Business Standard on 31 January 2022.
"The article published by you dated 30.01.2022, without authentication of facts, including numerous factual errors and was clearly directed to harm CHOWDHURY GROUP and its Managing Director Asif A. Chowdhury," reads the rejoinder signed by Krishna Kumar Shome, the group's head of HR & Admin.
"First of all CHOWDHURY GROUP has never heard of this Hotel till reading this articles nor made any proposals or have any interest in buying this Bogura hotel or looking to invest in any hotel therein as mentioned in your report," it adds.
"…through one of our acquaintances we have reached the Managing Director of Naz Garden Hotel Mr. Mohammad Shokrana on 31 January 2022 at 10:22 P.M. to clarify the CHOWDHURY GROUP'S bidding of this venture which he claims never said nor he is aware of CHOWDHURY GROUP," it says further.
The report was about a prospective business deal based on simple information gathered from parties concerned and it bore no malice towards Chowdhury Group or any other. While considering the rejoinder as Chowdhury Group's official position, we stand by the facts, which were duly cross-checked and not based on a single source.