Abul Kashem, vice-president of the Awami League’s USA unit, came to the country in 2017 after getting assurance of being the director of a new bank from a top government official.

He opened an office using a signboard which read “Proposed People’s Bank Limited” even before getting the approval in the capital’s Banani DOHS area.

After that he started raising money from different people and organisations for the capital and additional expenses of the bank, promising them the post of bank director. The board of directors of the Bangladesh Bank approved in principle the People’s Bank, Bengal Commercial Bank and Citizen Bank. Abul Kashem was the chairman of the People’s Bank.

Although the Bengal Commercial Bank and the Citizen Bank started their operation following the approval in principle, the People’s Bank couldn’t. The Bangladesh Bank also repealed the primary approval for the People’s Bank as it failed to meet the conditions. However, Abul Kashem did not return any of the money he had taken from different persons and organisations before getting the approval for the Bank. Instead, he bought a flat in Gulshan and luxurious cars with that money.

It has been learnt that Abul Kashem had taken Tk 1 billion from ecommerce agency Alesha Mart in the name of investment in the stock market and promising them the post of director of the People’s Bank.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police has filed a case against Abul Kashem over this incident. Besides, he was barred from going abroad. Later, he was arrested from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in the capital in the early hours of Thursday. He is in prison at the moment.

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Md Moniruzzaman, inspector of CID’s Financial Crime Unit and the investigation officer of the case, told Prothom Alo that Abul Kashem was handed over to the CID on Thursday morning. He was sent to the court with a remand plea. The court has fixed 25 June as the date for hearing the plea.

Who is this Abul Kashem?

As per the bio data submitted to the Bangladesh Bank for the approval of the People’s Bank, Abul Kashem was born in 1952. He completed matriculation from AB High School in 1973, intermediate from Omar Gani College in 1975 and BA from Najirhat Degree College in 1978. He moved to the USA in the 80s. He took a job at the Sparrow Contracting in Brooklyn. He founded Kashem Contracting in 1987. Abul Kashem joined Awami League from JSD in 2008. He is the No10 vice-president of Awami League’s USA unit. He has a construction firm in the USA. The central bank found inconsistencies in the wealth statement submitted by Abul Kashem.

When contacted at his house in Brooklyn, a woman introducing her as Abul Kashem’s daughter told Prothom Alo that he went to Brooklyn for the last time in December. He has been living in Bangladesh since then.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Siddiqur Rahman, president of AL’s US unit, said Abul Kashem was the international affairs secretary of Awami League’s USA unit. He is an affluent expatriate, he added.

The idea of forming a bank

After joining Awami League, Abul Kashem limited his business. In 2017, he befriended a then influential person of the government. That influential person promised him to arrange the bank approval for him.

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Following that, he returned to the country and took initiative to form the People’s Bank. As per the law, a capital of Tk 5 billion is required for forming a bank. Farzana Hossain, director of Dishari Industries, Mukitur Rahman, director of Tama Construction, Aslam Serniabat, owner of car dealership Car Selection, Rezaul Hossain, representative of Sumi Apparels, Md Zakir Hossain Patwari managing director (MD) of Madina Pharmaceutical, Khan Brothers Group MD Tofail Kabir Khan, Khandkar Badrul Ahsan, owner of Khandkar Tower in Gulshan, Tanzima Shahtaz, representative of Digant Sweaters, Amjad Khan, MD of Shwan International and Samiha Azim, representative of Sinest Apparel were mentioned as the directors in the application submitted to the central bank. Apart from them, a former vice-chairman of Meghna Bank was also named in the application. Some of them had paid in advance to become the director. Many of them are not getting the money back.

Abul Kashem
Collected

The board of directors of the Bangladesh Bank took the decision in principle to form the People’s Bank on 17 February 2019. They also provided the bank with a letter of intent. However, the bank failed to meet the conditions mentioned in the letter of intent despite taking additional times in phases.

Meanwhile, Abul Kashem did not deposit a certain portion of the money that he collected for the formation of the bank to any bank account. The rest of the money was deposited in his own account instead of the People’s Bank. Names of several people, who had given money for the bank, were not mentioned as directors in the application submitted to the Bangladesh Bank.

The bank took initiatives to omit some names from the initial list of directors to add cricketer Shakib Al Hasan and his mother as the directors. The bank also appealed for additional times at the same time. Shakib Al Hasan and Abul Kashem also had met with the then BB governor Fazle Kabir on 21 December 2021 in this regard.

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However, the central bank rejected the appeal from the bank to further extend the time of 22 January 2022. The BB also repealed the letter of intent it had given to the People’s Bank as a result the initiative to form a bank ended in smoke. The Bangladesh Bank said at the time that Shakib Al Hasan had taken two posts of directors of the bank at a cost of Tk 400 million.

 Speaking to Prothom Alo on Saturday night, a top official of the BB said there is nothing called the People’s Bank in Bangladesh. The initiative collapsed a long time ago. People have given money for the bank at their own initiative. Therefore, the central bank has nothing to do with it.

Prothom Alo spoke to several businessmen and bank officials involved in the initiative to form the bank. Several people joined Abul Kashem in hope of becoming a bank director. Now, they are not getting their money back after the initiative collapsed.

Abul Kashem’s close friend Nazrul Islam said, “He is a registered contractor in the US. He bought a house in Brooklyn in the 90s. He has bought two more houses recently. He was a JSD activist before leaving for the USA."

Alesha Mart too had given him money

 The Alesha Mart got the registration from the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms on 26 July 2020. The ecommerce officially started its operation on 7 January 2021.

Alesha Mart chairman Manjur Alam Sikder gave Abul Kashem Tk 1 billion in hope of becoming a bank director and for investment in the stock market. Therefore, a large portion of the money of Alesha Mart consumers got stuck.

The CID has filed a case over this incident against 15, including Alesha Mart chairman Manjur Alam Sikder, his wife Sadia Chowdhury and People’s Bank chairman Abul Kashem. Assistant superintendent of CID Al Mamun filed the case with Banani police station. Abul Kashem was arrested after that.

 The flat and the car

A person interested in becoming a bank director rented a house for Abul Kashem in the capital’s Gulshan area after he returned to the country. Although the initiative to form the bank went in vain, Abul Kashem bought the flat that he rented in. A car was seen parked under the house after his arrest.

Meanwhile, Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) director Uttam Kumar wrote to the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit on 1 June saying despite not having the required amount of properties Abul Kashem showed properties worth Tk 400 million in the US.

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There is also an allegation of laundering Tk 1.5 billion to the USA through Abul Kashem against Alesha Mart owner Manjur Alam Sikder.

Former chief economist of Bangladesh Bank, Mustafa K Mujeri told Prothom Alo, “People now are earning legally and illegally. To be an owner of a bank is a matter of pride. From this perspective, people gave him money."

"The Bangladesh Bank had also given him recognition by giving the primary approval for the formation of the bank. It didn’t consider whether there was any need for a new bank or not. Therefore, a standard should be set for becoming a bank director. Social status should also be taken into consideration as well as financial status of a person to avoid such situations," the economist added

[Prothom Alo’s New York correspondent helped prepare this report]

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