A farmer spreads fertiliser to the Aman paddy field. The picture was taken from Dadaghat in Sylhet 18 September 2022.
Anis Mahmud

A contractor firm allegedly embezzled 72,000 tonnes of imported chemical fertiliser worth Tk 5.82 billion instead of transporting to the government warehouse after being released from the port.

The firm, M/S Poton Traders, is owned by Kamrul Ashraf Khan Poton, who is a former lawmaker and president of Bangladesh Fertiliser Association (BFA).

People concerned said Kamrul Ashraf Khan, in fact, controls the fertiliser business of the country.

The allegation came to light following the investigation of the state-run fertiliser importer Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) under the industries ministry.

Though the consignments of this fertiliser were released from the port between November 2021 and 15 May 2022, the BCIC took no legal action in the past seven months.

Lastly, the BCIC sent a letter to the industries ministry on 20 December 2022 seeking instruction on legal action.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun said he hasn’t received the letter of BCIC yet, but instruction has been given to investigate the matter after hearing about the firm not transporting fertiliser to warehouse.

If evidence is found against anyone, action will be taken, he added.

BCIC runs the fertiliser business, manufactures urea, and imports fertiliser to meet the domestic demand. The state-run agency appoints various contractor firms to transport imported fertiliser from port to the government warehouse. Previously, allegation had surfaced against contractor firms of embezzling fertiliser several times and evidences were found.

Contractor firm Nabab and Company, for example, allegedly embezzled 64,000 tonnes of fertiliser imported in 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscals. Later, BCIC filed a case against the firm’s owner Mohammad Nabab Khan with Dhaka’s Motejheel police station in 2021. Police’s Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) is investigating the case.

According to the records of BCIC, the government imported 393,000 tonnes of fertiliser from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates in 2021-22 fiscal and an agreement was signed with M/S Poton Traders to transport the fertiliser from the port to the government warehouse.

Fertiliser was supposed to be transported to warehouse within 50 days after being released at the port. According to latest data, Poton Traders did not transport 70,000 tonnes of fertiliser worth Tk 5.82 billion to warehouse as of 10 December last year.

On 10 November last year, BCIC formed two probe committees to verify whether the imported fertiliser is stored in the warehouse of Poton Traders. Both probe bodies filed investigations report on 8 December.

According to investigation report, Poton Traders informed the BCIC at the beginning of October that 66,000 tonnes of fertiliser are stored in their warehouse. But, on-site investigation found there are only 1,300 tonnes of fertilisers left at warehouse and that is also unusable and not fit for distribution to farmers.

Investigation report further said Poton Traders general manager Shahadat Hossain and general manager (operation) Nazmul Hossain admitted that fertilisers were not stored at their warehouse and they signed documents related to it.

Prothom Alo could not reach Shahadat Hossain for comment. He neither received phone call nor replied to SMS and message in WhatsApp.

Later the BCIC banned Poton Traders from participating in tender floated by its agencies. Other than this, no major step was taken and the BCIC chose to talk to the firm.

The BCIC letter stated Poton Traders promised to transport all urea fertiliser to the government warehouse before the harvesting season begins on 29 December, but the frim did not supply fertiliser on time. BCIC held talks with Kamrul Ashraf Khan in several phases, but his firm supplied no fertiliser.

Kamrul Ashraf Khan was elected lawmaker from Narsingdi-2 in 2014 defeating JASAD candidate Zayedul Kabir, who contested the election on boat symbol from the grand alliance. Kamrul Ashraf Khan does politics of Awami League. His brother Anwarul Ashraf Khan is the incumbent in Narsingdi-2 from Awami League.

Prothom Alo could not reach Kamrul Ashraf Khan for comment. He neither received phone call nor replied to SMS and message in WhatsApp.

According to BCIC sources, the state-run agency at its board meeting on 12 December discussed about the matter of Poton Traders not supplying fertiliser and decided to seek the ministry’s instruction on filing a criminal case against the firm.

Then-BCIC chairman Shah Md Imdadul Haque sent the letter to the ministry seeking instruction on legal action. He went to PRL (post-retirement leave) on 29 December. When asked he declined to make any comment.

BCIC faces loss. According to Bangladesh Economic Review 2022, the state-run agency faced loss of Tk 34.85 billion in the last seven fiscals, including Tk 5.52 billion in July-April of 2021-22 fiscal. BCIC, however, made a profit of Tk 1.03 billion in 2014-15 fiscal.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Iftekharuzzaman said people involved in embezzling fertiliser must be held accountable no matter how powerful they are. Since state asset has been wasted and power has been used, legal action should be taken against the people involved, he added.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna.