Rejoinder to report on Sikder’s wealth overseas, and Prothom Alo’s reply

Rejoinder to report on Sikder’s wealth overseas, and Prothom Alo’s reply

Sikder Group has issued a rejoinder to the report, ‘Sikder family amasses wealth in Las Vegas, other big cities of the world’, published in Prothom Alo on 9 June.

In the rejoinder signed by the group’s vice president Mahfuzur Rahman, it was said, “The report contains certain misleading and irresponsible remarks that may create questions in the public mind concerning the group’s reputation.”

In the beginning of the rejoinder, it was said, “Prothom Alo and all concerned should be aware that the Sikder family, now established as the Sikder Group, left the country after the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975 and went to India. They later left Bangladesh and went on to the US in 1980 for business purposes. In 1981 they formed a corporate company in the US and for long the Sikder Group had a real estate business there. The earnings and profits from that business were subsequently invested overseas where their wealth was created. No funds were siphoned out of the country to amass wealth abroad.”

It (biography on Zainul Haque Sikder) speaks of all sorts of miraculous events behind the success of Sikder family’s business. It relates how their truck business was failing and the truck tyres were repeated getting damaged, and then by a miracle, the trucks ran perfectly on those damaged tyres and from then they began making money.

The rejoinder denied the report’s claims of ownership in the Swiss TV channel CNNMoney. It said CNNMoney was a web-based news portal in which the Sikder Group has shares.

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“The indications in report that National Bank may have been used to launder money are fabricated,” the rejoinder said, adding, “Even before National Bank was founded, the Sikder Group had business in the US. Rather than transferring money abroad, the group has often brought in foreign exchange. The St Kitts and Nevis resort mentioned in the report is basically a partnership-based business set up with support from the government of that country.”

According to the rejoinder, “The mention in the report of attempts to shoot the Exim Bank MD is irrelevant and unwarranted. The matter is under investigation and it is unlawful to make such judgemental statements at this stage.”

The rejoinder said that it was completely untrue that Ron Haque Sikder and Dipu Haque Sikder left the country in guise of patients. It said, “Ron Haque Sikder was unwell and after taking all required permission, left by air ambulance to go to Thailand for treatment to save his life. He is still under treatment in hospital there. Such unverified news surmounts to spreading false information about an individual.”

“In questioning the parliamentary membership of Parveen Haque Sikder, daughter of the group’s chairman Zainul Haque Sikder, the authority of the prime minister has been questioned,” the rejoinder went on to say.

The rejoinder expressed regret at banker Ibrahim Khaled’s questioning how the Sikder Group’s funds were transferred overseas. It said, “He later called up his uncle Sulaiman Khan Majlis and apologised for his misleading remarks.”

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“Salauddin sahib [referring to Salehuddin Ahmed] made similar remarks which are unfounded. As said before, the group’s investments were from the business they began overseas in 1981,” the rejoinder stated, concluding, “we believe in future a responsible newspaper like Prothom Alo will carry out due investigations before presenting such reports.”

I spoke with knowledge of what I was saying. It is the state’s failure that wealth from Bangladesh is being siphoned overseas. This is supported by the statement of Bangladesh Bank. These investments were made without their approval.
Salehuddin Ahmed, former governor of Bangladesh Bank

Prothom Alo’s reply:

Prothom Alo gathered all information regarding investments made overseas from the official company registration documents in those respective countries. The Sikder Group has not denied the information in that regard. The group has claimed that they have been doing business in the US since 1981 from which they have invested in other countries and created their wealth. However, while the group website mentions having business overseas, it has no information on the investments or wealth. National Bank’s website has a biography of Sikder Group’s chairman Zainul Haque Sikder. This book, Zainul Haque Sikder: Betrikromo Bektityo, (Zainul Haque Sikder: A Unique Personality), was written by Badiuzzaman Chowdhury, president of the Greater Faridpur History Heritage Council. It speaks of all sorts of miraculous events behind the success of Sikder family’s business. It relates how their truck business was failing and the truck tyres were repeatedly getting damaged, and then by a miracle, the trucks ran perfectly on those damaged tyres and from then they began making money.

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Similarly, miracles were behind the success of their contracting business. It writes how he went to America, saw a house as he was walking along and bought it for 200,000 dollars, but it does not explain where a man, newly arrived in America, got so much money or whether he took it with him there. Bangladesh Bank does not have information on the matter either.

Investment funds cannot be taken overseas without permission of Bangladesh Bank. There is no scope of taxpayers showing this in their tax files either.

NBR officials, both past and incumbent, told Prothom Alo that there was no legal provision for such overseas investment, and so they could not include this in the tax forms.

The NBR officials said that many taxpayers smuggled out their illegally earned wealth and so naturally kept this a secret. That is why the Prothom Alo report raised questions in this regard.

The mention in the report of the attack on the Exim Bank MD in presence of the National Bank MD is relevant, as information regarding their overseas investment surfaced when probes were made into why the two brothers left the country in the guise of patients after a case was filed regarding the incident.

Comments of two analysts

Regarding the rejoinders’ statement, former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank, Khondokar Ibrahim Khaled told Prothom Alo. “I have no uncle by the name of Sulaiman Khan Majlis. He was the MD of a bank. I spoke to him, but the question of my apologising does not arise. Everything I had said is absolutely true and I stand by my statement. I think the Sikder Group is trying to blackmail me.”

Former governor of Bangladesh Bank, Salehuddin Ahmed, told Prothom Alo, “I spoke with knowledge of what I was saying. It is the state’s failure that wealth from Bangladesh is being siphoned overseas. This is supported by the statement of Bangladesh Bank. These investments were made without their approval.”