A civil servant named Setaful Islam has disappeared allegedly after embezzling Tk 140 million meant for compensation for the people affected by the government's land acquisition, reveals an investigation.
Setaful Islam, an administrative cadre officer of the 24th Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS), was posted as land acquisition officer at Kishoreganj deputy commissioner's office.
With sacks and vehicle, Setaful Islam went to the Sonali Bank in Kishoreganj branch in December to withdraw the huge sums of cash, witnesses told investigators. Once the matter came to the notice of the authorities and his colleagues, Setaful Islam disappeared from the scene.
He could not even be reached over phone for comments as his cell phone remained switched off.
The cabinet division, in a letter, asked the immigration department to halt Setaful if he tries to flee the the country.
Setaful Islam embezzled the money, instead of distributing it as compensation packages among the respective people, shows the investigation.
It says a total of Tk 50 million was allocated for land acquisition purposes in Kishoreganj in recent times.
However, a cheque of the said amount signed by the accounts officer was deposited as salaries for employees of the land acquisition section of the district on 5 December.
Record shows, Setaful Islam withdrew a total of Tk 49.40 million in two phases -- on 6 and 7 December.
The rest Tk 600,000 was sent to an organisation named Tapan Industries.
In cheque books, the recognition of the cheque recipients was not found, according to the investigation. Some 13 cheques went missing. Instead of distributing cheques among the land owners, these were given to unnamed persons. In this way, he has allegedly embezzled over Tk 88.60 million more.
He prepared a cheque to embezzle Tk 100 million more. As the matter was exposed, he fled, said the investigation.
Auditor supers SM Jaman and Golam Haider of Kishoreganj district accounts office, accounts officer Sirajul Islam and a section of officials at Kishoreganj branch of Sonali bank are also responsible for embezzling the money.
Dhaka additional divisional commissioner Nurunnabi said the money was embezzled in collusion with the bank officials and the district accounts office.
"How did the bank give so much money in Setaful's name?" Nurunnabi questioned.
Denying the allegation, bank manager Md Mahbubul Islam Khan said, "The money was given as the land acquisition officer was delegated power to operate the account. We are bound to give the money as he submitted the required documents."
When asked, the bank manager said Setaful along with car, a few companions and sacks came to the bank and took the money.
District accounts officer Sirajul Islam also denied the allegation.
"I have properly verified the cheque. He was supposed to give details after the disbursement of compensation money. I could not anticipate that he would do such an act of disbelief," the official said.
Additional divisional commissioner Nurunnabi said, "I think the bank is involved in the incident. The district accounts office can't approve the cheque."
Dhaka divisional commissioner M Bazlul Karim Chowdhury, in a letter, asked the public administration ministry to take departmental, legal and administrative actions against this officer.
"I have never seen such a dreadful and dishonest person in my whole career. I have requested the Anti-Corruption Commission to file a graft case against him,"
Dhaka divisional commissioner's office and Kishoreganj district administration have investigated the case of Setaful's money embezzlement.
Land was acquired for implementing different development projects. The land ministry is assigned to accomplish this task. Affected people are to be compensated for land acquisition and cheques of compensation money are sent to the district administration in advance.
On 3 December 2017, Setaful Islam was transfered to Pirojpur. Later, he was tranfered as aditional deputy commissioner to Sherpur. After lobbying, he was able to cancll his transfer order. As per his choice, he was transfered to Pirojpur as land acquisition officer.
He could not be traced in Kishoreganj or in Pirojpur.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, deputy commissioner of Pirojpur Abu Ahmed Siddique said, "Setaful Islam was not seen after his joining in Pirojpur."
"I have heard he was appointed as ADC of Bhola," Siddique added.
"I have seen the appointment of Setaful in a circular on the website, but not practically."
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.