News of the Sonali Bank-Hallmark loan scam, published in Prothom Alo in 2012, created quite a stir across the country. Hallmark group managing director Tanvir Mahmud had been the chief perpetrator and several high officials of Sonali Bank were also involved.
According to reports, the Hallmark group embezzled Tk 27 billion from the Sonali Bank Ruposhi Bangla (then Sheraton) branch in collaboration with the Sonali Bank officials. The Anti-Corruption Commission filed a case at Ramna police station in this connection.
As the investigation ended, a charge sheet naming 26 persons including Hallmark chair Jesmin Islam, managing director Tanvir Mahmud, his brother-in-law Tushar Ahmed was submitted to the court on 7 October 2013.
The senior special judge court, framed charges against the defendants on 17 February and 27 March 2016.
The 11 cases were transferred to the special court-1 of Dhaka. Only eight, including the Hallmark chair and MD, among all the defendants are in prison now. Another is on bail and the rest of the 16 are fugitives.
It was hoped that this massive financial scam would be disposed speedily, but the case continues at a snail's pace even five years on.
Till 6 March, statements of only 282 witnesses among 853 named in the charge sheet have been taken in 11 cases. The trial date has been postponed several times due to one of the defendants’ sickness, the absence of witnesses and for lack of necessary documents.
It is unfortunate that witnesses or documents are unavailable in such a crucial case.
It should be looked into whether the trial process is being intentionally delayed by the influential defendants. An ACC lawyer though claimed that the commission is so actively endeavouring to end the trial soon. But there is no such indication.
If the culprits of the Hallmark scandal could be prosecuted soon then many more scandals in the banking sector could be avoided in future.
We are seeing a series of scandals in the banking sector. After the Hallmark scam, another big scam took place at BASIC Bank. But, ACC filed the case excluding the former BASIC Bank chairman Abdul Hye Bachchu then.
Bachchu is now being interrogated occasionally. Many see this as an eyewash.
Former law minister Shafique Ahmed said, “Why couldn't those responsible present the witnesses? It is important to take legal action if anyone is negligent.”
We also think ACC cannot avoid responsibility. It is responsible for presenting the witnesses. If required, it can issue warrants against the witnesses.
The Hallmark loan scam case should soon be disposed and those responsible be punished.