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These 12 companies have no account as to how much they owe to customers and the suppliers. No government has assessed that as yet. However, according to the claims of the police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), customers and owners, four of these firms have a debt of Tk 31.21 billion. Of this, Evaly has a debt of Tk 9.5 billion, eorange Tk 11 billion, Dhamaka Tk 8.03 billion and SPC World has a debt of Tk 2.68 billion.

The customers and suppliers are going door to door to get back their money nowadays. They are protesting as well. However, there is no outcome. Offices of some of these companies are closed now.

The persons concerned say the government is responsible for this. More specifically, the Bangladesh Bank, the commerce ministry, the information and communication technology (ICT) division and the Access to Information or A2I (aspire to innovation at present) programme have no way to avoid the responsibility.

It needs to go back two years to find the reason why these companies have no way to avoid the responsibility. Some important decisions on e-commerce were taken in a meeting of a committee called “Policy Coordination Committee for Private Sector Development '' under the prime minister’s office on 27 November, 2019. The then principal secretary of the prime minister’s office Nazibur Rahman presided over the meeting.

It was said at the meeting that Bangladesh Bank and A2I will jointly launch “escrow service” for e-commerce. Under this system, the e-commerce company is supposed to get money only after the customer gets the product. Before that, the money will be deposited to an institution approved by the Bangladesh Bank.

When asked why there was no initiative to launch escrow, Serajul Islam, executive director and spokesperson of Bangladesh Bank, told Prothom Alo over the mobile phone on Thursday, “This is not our responsibility. The commerce ministry informed us about this on 27 June and we issued the gazette notification regarding this on 30 June. We would have done this earlier if we were asked earlier.”

In that meeting held at the prime minister’s office, the commerce ministry and the ICT division were given the task to include e-commerce in the National Innovation and Intellectual Property Policy and include necessary laws in the Digital Security Act to ensure security in e-commerce. However, all the divisions failed to accomplish that at the time.

E-commerce Association of Bangladesh (ECAB) issued a letter to the then commerce secretary Md Jafar Uddin requesting the implementation of the decisions. But the commerce ministry did not take that seriously.

Jafar Uddin is the chief executive officer of Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) now. When asked why effective initiative was not taken, he told Prothom Alo on Friday, “I don’t want to make any comment on this.” The then project director of A2I, Abdul Mannan also refused to make any remark in this regard.

A lot has happened in between. Following Evaly many more organisations started taking money from the customers. The criminal investigation department (CID) of the police is now investigating money laundering against 16 e-commerce companies. Bangladesh Bank is looking for information about 9 more institutions apart from Evaly.

CID's special superintendent of police (SP) for organised crime department, Humayun Kabir told Prothom Alo that letters have been sent to various institutions including banks seeking information. Action will be taken after verification.

Others following the footsteps of Evaly

Evaly started business with a paid up capital of Tk 50,000 in December, 2018. And within a very short period of time the company saw huge success by offering lucrative discounts on the products. Other e-commerce businesses like Dhamaka, Qcoom, Dalal Plus, Adian Mart, Sirajganj Shop, Aladiner Prodip, and PriyoShop followed the path shown by Evaly.

The commerce ministry formed a probe committee in August, 2020 to investigate the allegation against the multi-level marketing (MLM) business, when the suspicious businesses of these organisations were at their peak. They wrote letters to seven organisations to take action against Evaly.

Following the letter, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) suspended Evali's account for a month. The moratorium has not been extended further after that. The home ministry investigated and found evidence of fraud. However, no case was filed against them.

The Bangladesh Bank started the inspection much later. On 16 June this year, the Bangladesh Bank completed the report and informed the commerce ministry that there is massive inconsistency in the company’s account of earning and expenditure. Some 16 per cent of the customers can be repaid with the company’s assets.

In the meantime, the system of receiving money after delivering products was introduced in the country on 30 June, although the decision regarding this was taken in November 2019. After that, the issues regarding the debts of these companies started coming out.

They praised these companies

Evaly’s chairman Shamima Nasrin and managing director (MD) Mohammed Russel are now in prison. However, 8 November, last year Evaly got an award on the sixth birth anniversary of ECAB. Evaly was one of the major sponsors of the event. State minister for ICT Junaid Ahmed handed over the award to Evaly chairman Shamima Nasrin. He said that an organisation like Evaly will one day become the “Alibaba” and “Amazon” of Bangladesh.

Customers say they got confidence after the minister praised the organisations like Evaly and invested in it. So ministers also have to take the responsibility. However, state minister Junaid Ahmed Palak could not be reached for his comment in this regard.

A case has been filed on the allegation that Invariant Telecom has embezzled Tk 8.03 billion in the name of e-commerce company Dhamaka. The actual owners of this company are Jasim Uddin Chishty, his wife Syeda Roksana Khanam and their three children.

On 11 April, Mustafa Jabbar, post, telecommunication and information technology minister, inaugurated the “Dhamaka Uddokta App” during the second session of “Rural to Global E-commerce Policy Conference”.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Thursday, Mustafa Jabbar said, “Not all the apps are bad and we encourage developing all sorts of apps. If anyone incurs a loss from the app due to temptation, it’s not my responsibility as I inaugurated it.”

Aladiner Pradip and others

Aladiner Pradip is one of the 12 companies that have not yet been sued for not refunding the money to its customers and suppliers. Mehedi Hasan alias Mun, a final year student of the Department of Sociology at Dhaka University, is the owner of this company.

Mehedi Hasan told Prothom Alo that he owed a total of Tk 850 million to some 120,000 customers. Now the amount of his debt has lessened to Tk 50 million. The problem has been created by the mobile financial service (MFS) “Nagad”. The rest of the debts would be repaid soon.

Meanwhile, there is no trace of SirajganjShop.com. The head office in Bahirgola area of Sirajganj municipal and the regional office in the MA Matin road in the city were seen closed on last Saturday. Aydul Abdullah, chief technology officer of the company, said some 100,000 customers have invested a total of Tk 3 billion in their company. Prothom Alo correspondent could not find any trace of Jewel Rana, owner of sirajganjshop.com, even in his village Berabari. However, Jewel's elder brother Anwar Hossain claimed to Prothom Alo that Nagad has created all the problems. Nagad blocked the money.

However, the managing director of Nagad, Tanvir Ahmed disagreed with the claim. He told Prothom Alo that the rule is that Sirajganjshop will take the money after supplying the products to the customers. But the owners of the company were taking the money themselves. Nagad has filed a case against the company for this. However, they could not file any case against Aladiner Pradip as the amount of debt was much less.

Earlier, an official of Qcoom claimed that a total Tk 4.2 billion has been stuck in the payment gateway. For this reason they are unable to return the money of their customers.

Meanwhile, the customers say that the bank cheques issued by these companies have been dishonoured.

Abdullah Mamun, one of the customers, said that he has dues of Tk 2.2 million to four e-commerce companies. He told Prothom Alo that they are repeatedly delaying the payment. They are giving bank cheques. However, the checks have been dishonoured as there is no money in their accounts.

‘The situation would not aggravate so much’

No one can find any solution to this problem. Earlier, the victims of various MLM companies including Jubok, Destiny and Unipay2u, did not get their money back.

However, Jubok and Destiny have some assets. But the organisations like Evaly do not even have that. RAB said Evaly has only Tk 3 million while Dhamaka has only Tk 97,000 in their bank account.

ECAB general secretary Abdul Wahed told Prothom Alo that if the decisions taken during the meeting at the prime minister’s office on 27 November, 2019 were in effect, the problem would not aggravate so much.

*Sirajganj correspondent has helped in making this report with information.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu

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