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In an special inspection by Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) in 2019, it was found that a Jhenaidah-based firm, SB Exim, had exported clay terracotta tiles at cost much higher than the international market price. But Tk two billion bill against the export had not reached country. However, the Bangladesh Commerce Bank had bought the bill and paid Tk 1.90 billion (190 crore) to SB Exim, but is not getting the money back.

Four of the foreign banks, which had sent the purchase orders, have no operations in their own countries and are not even approved for the operations. These banks are known as ‘shell banks’. Dealing with these banks is restricted globally. So a question surfaces whether there was any export at all in the first place.

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Shahjahan Bablu is chairman of SB Punno Group. The name 'SB Punno' has been created from Shahjahan Bablu and his daughter Shamsun Fariya Punno. He also runs business in the name of SB Exim.

Besides tiles business, Bablu is involved in import of pesticides and fertilizer. His terracotta tiles production was closed since 2019 after his money laundering had been detected. He fled the country. Commerce Bank officials said fertilizer is being imported in a limited scale in the name of his firm.

Bablu’s businesses in Dubai and Singapore

The website of SB Punno Group is now closed. When it was functional, it said the group has five business establishments in Dubai and Singapore. These are Punno Jewellery in Dubai, Punno Foodstuff Trading and Punno General Trading in UAE, Punno Gold & Diamond PTE and Punno Supermarket PTE Limited in Singapore.

Prothom Alo searched Singapore business directory and found out that Punno Gold & Diamond was registered on 2 August 2018 and Punno Supermarket on 3 March 2017. Addresses of both the businesses are at Grand View Suites in Geylang area. SB Group or no other of its sister concerns got approval from Bangladesh Bank to operate business abroad.

Fugitive loan defaulter’s luxurious life abroad

Shahjahan Bablu recently uploaded some photos on Facebook. The location of his house is upscale Jumeirah in Dubai. A picture was taken in front of a swimming pool. The caption of the picture reads, “At my house, Jumeirah, UAE”.

According to real state companies that sell properties in Dubai, such a house at Jumeirah usually costs around 40 million dirham or around Tk 9.2 million (1 Dirham = 23 Taka).

Around one thousand comments and replies have been made on the Facebook post as of Tuesday.

He posted another picture of his business establishment in Dubai. Signboards of Punno Jewelry, Punno General Trading and S Punno Foodstuff Trading can be seen in the picture. His wife Suraiya Shahjahan is seen in another picture.

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Shahjahan Bablu was contacted several times over his mobile phone for comments about such lavish lifestyle and other issues. Many messages were also sent to his WhatsApp. But he did not reply.

Not only Shahjahan Bablu, others involved with the incidents of money laundering in the guise of terracotta tiles export remain unscathed. Former managing director (MD) of Commerce Bank RQM Forkan, current deputy managing director (DMD) Kazi Riajul Karim and 9 other officials were temporarily suspended from the bank. The bank authorities later withdrew the suspension order.

Other accused in the incident are treasury chief Md Kamruzzaman, principal branch manager Afzal Hossain, Dilkusha branch manager Fakir Nazmul Alam and operation manager Jahangir Alam, Narayanganj branch manager Hasan Faruk, operation manager of Moulvibazar branch, Dhaka Rafiqul Islam, head office’s senior executive officers Md Shahinuzzaman, Farhana Razzaq and Jamal Hossain. All the accused officials were posted at the bank’s Dilkusha branch and head office at the time of the incident.

When asked, the bank’s current MD Omar Faruk told Prothom Alo, “No one can be termed guilty until the allegations are proved by the court. So the time has not yet come to reach a conclusion about anyone’s involvement. Bangladesh Bank’s approval was sought about rescheduling the loan. Long time has elapsed since then but we’re yet to get the approval.”

Omar Faruk referred to the name of another official to get detailed information about the incident. The official, seeking anonymity, said the customer could not be contacted as he had fled the country.

Bangladesh Bank former governor Salehuddin Ahmed told Prothom Alo, “It cannot be acceptable that someone would lead lavish life abroad siphoning off money from the country’s bank. No matter whoever the criminal is, measures should be taken after bringing him back."

Bangladesh Bank and Anti-Corruption Commission can seriously look into such incidents, the top banker said adding the bank officials who connived in the crime should be brought to book.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online edition, has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf.

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