Who did Hallmark's Tanvir hold liable in deposition

Hallmark Group managing director Tanvir Mahmud at the court premises under police custody on 19 March, 2024Dipu Malakar

If a list of loan scams in the banking sector after the liberation war is made, that would be a long one. Incidents of financial scams are happening one after another, but most of those are not resolved. Embezzled money has not been recovered. However, the Hallmark scam of Sonali Bank will be on the top of that list for various reasons.

The Hallmark scam is a glaring example as to how a section of politically influential persons, bank boards and management and some businessmen embezzled money from the bank. This is the biggest incident regarding embezzling the highest amount of money from a single branch of a bank. It can be said this incident took place in front of everybody's eyes.

Over Tk 36.06 billion was embezzled through forgery from the Ruposhi Bangla branch of Sonali Bank (Earlier it was Sheraton branch, at the time it was Ruposhi Bangla branch). Of the amount, Hallmark withdrew over Tk 26.67 billion. None in the banking sector can say that the embezzlement of such a big amount of money from a branch of a bank by a company took place ever.

The board of directors first gave loans to Hallmark. Taking this as an opportunity, the Ruposhi Bangla branch has regularly supported the Hallmark Group to indulge in forgery. From the managing director to most of the concerned officials created this opportunity of forgery. Measures were taken so that the incident of forgery is never unearthed. A section of officials came to know about the incident of forgery and they initiated action against the incident, but they were transferred through a one-day notice. Politically influential people were backing it. Names of more than one advisers to the prime minister and a state minister were revealed.

A section of officials came to know about the incident of forgery and they initiated action against the incident, but they were transferred through a one-day notice. Politically influential people were backing it. Names of more than one advisers to the prime minister and a state minister were revealed.

Ruposhi Bangla branch manager, who also ranked deputy general manager (DGM), AKM Azizur Rahman played the main role. Many officials including then managing director of the bank, Humayun Kabir assisted him. Azizir Rahman died while in detention.

Hallmark Group managing director (MD) was Tanvir Mahmud and his wife Jesmin Islam was chairman.

The judge of Dhaka's special judge court-1, Abul Kashem, sentenced Hallmark Group managing director Tanvir Mahmud, his wife Jesmin Islam and seven others to life term in a case filed a decade ago over loan scam of Sonali Bank.

In the observation of the verdict, the court said those who undermine a country’s banking system, economy and people’s deposit deserve death sentences. However, the capital punishment in the respective law is lifetime imprisonment. Therefore, the accused have been sentenced to life in prison.

Seven others, who have been given life term, are Tanvir's brother-in-law Hallmark Group general manager Tushar Ahmed, T and Brothers' director Taslim Hasan, Max Spinning Mill's owner Mir Zakaria, Paragon Group MD Saiful Islam Raza, Nakshi Knit MD Md Abdul Malek, Abdul Matin and Taslim Hasan.

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Eight other convicted are Savar Hemayetpur's Tetuljhora union parishad chairman Md Jamal Uddin Sarker, Sonali Bank Dhanmondi branch senior executive officer Meherunnesa Meri, Sonali Bank head office former general managers Nani Gopal Nath, Mir Mohidur Rahman, head office former managing director Humayun Kabir, deputy managing director Mainul Haque, deputy general manager Safiz Uddin and AGM Md Kamrul Hossain Khan. Of these eight convicts, Jamal Uddin was sentenced five years while others have been sentenced 17 years each.

The deposition of Tanvir Mahmud

More than one case was filed over the Hallmark scam. In a case, Tanvir Mahmud gave disposition to the magistrate on 18 August 2012. Although he claimed himself innocent, he described the scam.

He said, "I passed SSC from the humanities group from Brahmanpara School in 1987 and HSC from Akhaura Shaheed Smriti Degree College in 1989. At the end of 1996, I took Tk one million from my father and started a business with Hallmark packaging factory by renting a building for Tk 5,000 and giving an advance of Tk 25,000 at 190/2 Taltola in Kafrul. My business started expading gradually. I established the Hallmark Group comprising 8-9 entities. Currently I have 65 entities in operation. Of these, there are 34 garments. There are 40,000 workers in all my organisations.

After getting local back to back LC from garments in 2004-5, I opened an account in the name of Hallmark Packaging at the Hotel Sheraton branch of Sonali Bank. Currently there are 57 accounts in this branch. Currently this liability is in the names of 18 different firms. My business was good till 2010.

Saiful Islam Raza was my GM earlier. Later he became owner of Paragon Group. Abdul Malek was director of my business. A few days ago, he secretly started a business in name of Nakshi Knit Composite. Taslim Hasan is T and Brothers' Group's director. Raza and Malek would look after all bank accounts on behalf of me. Most of the time, I would hand over bank cheques to them. Taslim Hasan would work for fake LCs from the past. Two of my people, Raza and Malek along with Taslim may have done something, later I came to know the matter. Meanwhile, they forged some of my signatures. My estimated liability stood at over Tk 20 billion in the beginning of 2012.

The court has sentenced Hallmark Group managing director Tanvir Mahmud, his wife Jesmin Islam and seven others to life term in a case filed a decade ago over loan scam of Sonali Bank.

Hotel Sheraton branch manager Aziz, AGM Saiful Hasan and bank's former officer Matin, officer Wahiduzzaman (retired) and cash officer Saidur had involvement in these activities. On different occasions, Sonali Bank head office's Atiqur Rahman (acting MD), GM office's GM Nani Gopal, Mir Mohidur, DMD Saiful Islam, GM Siraji called me in February 2012. I admitted all of my liabilities. I said, I will pay all the money and I will give all the necessary mortgage. After 4-5 days, They sent a circular to the Sheraton branch. Then manager Aziz sanctioned IBP (Inland Bill Purchase) against 40 companies for Tk 300 million each.

The Bangladesh Bank audit team called me on 24 May. They asked me how I took such an amount of money. I said I took the money legally. This is the liability of Aziz Saheb. On 24 May, the bank authority stopped business with me and asked me to adjust the money. New MD called me. Former GMs including DMD Iqbal and new manager Abul Kashem (as Aziz Saheb was suspended) were present. They asked me to adjust money and mortgage necessary land. Before my arrest, I paid Tk 4.52 billion in different ways. I mortgaged 61 acres of land. According to the bank, my total liabilities stand at Tk 26.50 billion. After payment of Tk 4.52 billion, liabilities stand at Tk 22.02 billion. Market rate of mortgaged land stands at Tk 26.50 billion.

Before my arrest, I sent letters to different places including Bangladesh Bank to pay the money in 20 years through installments and to start business. But I didn't receive any response. After meeting with the Anti Corruption Commission, the bank issued a letter and asked me to pay the money by 15 days, which I responded saying it is impractical. Despite my arrest, I sought installment for payment and scope for business. I have not laundered any money. I have taken loans and established industries. I have gone to Singapore only once for my treatment.

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However, bank manager Aziz, ADM Saiful Hasan, officer Matin, retired Wahiduzzaman and cash officer Saidur were involved. Taslim, Raza and Malek through my next GM Tushar would give money to these officials by entry in the rough register of the bank at different occasions. Tushar would know it. Around Tk 30 million was given to the branch officials. Taslim, Raza and Malek gave Tk 8-9 million to three GMs and officer Wahiduzzaman at the GM office of Sonali Bank. My people would also give money to new GM Nani Gopal at the GM office at different occasions.

After 15 days of joining, Nani Gopal called me to his office and sought help of Tk 500,000 and an e-71 mobile. Within 15 days, I gave money and the mobile. Taslim, Malek, Raza and DGM Aziz gave Tk 7-8 million to former AGM Safiuddin (current DGM) of ITFD division at the head office of Sonali Bank. Besides, as per instruction of manager Aziz, I gave Tk 1 million to DMD Atiqur Rahman of the head office.

Probably in April of 2012, Taslim, Malek, Raza, manager Aziz Saheb, DNA Sports' owner Shika called me to the corridor of the bank and said it will take Tk 30 million to manage the board of directors of the bank. This money has to be given to a member of the board. At one stage, I rebuked them and they tried to pacify me. Taslim Saheb said, "I myself would give Tk 12 million, Hallmark will give Tk 10 million and Malek, Raza and Shikha will give Tk 8 million." After rebuking me, I returned. All including Aziz Saheb instigated me for the money. Taslim said he has meanwhile paid Tk 12 million.

At one stage under pressure, I asked Tushar to give Tk 5 million. This is an incident from April. Tushar in front of Taslim Saheb gave Tk 5 million in the corridor of the bank. After a few days, Taslim and a director came to my residence and sought Tk 5 million. As I refused to give the money, Taslim fainted. My GM Tushar and Taslim's director Atiqur Rahman took Taslim to the Apollo hospital.

Taslim at different occasions threatened me with DGFI and journalists. Taslim often would go to Malaysia and would seek money from Tushar there. Malek and Raza instigated me to launch a garments business. These two people along with Taslim Hasan carried out this forgery and increased my liabilities. They would take commission of 30-40 per cent of commission of the LC of my company and increased my liabilities. They secretly established several industries each.

With full knowledge, Aziz Shaheb has separately given loans in the name of different fake firms. Raza and Malek concocted Anwar Spinning, Max Spinning, Century International Apparel Enterprise, Star Spinning Mills. Later, for my protection, as all are the liabilities of my accounts, I admitted all and adjusted all the liabilities against these companies. As per the instruction of DGM Aziz Saheb, Malek, Raza and Taslim slyly made this trap.

My wife is a company director by name. As per the government's rule, two people are needed for a limited company. So I made my wife a director. She is totally innocent. She does not do any business. This is my deposition."

*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam