A former bank official has made way with Tk 1.86 billion, deposits around 4,500 customers kept with two cooperatives.
Khan Md Firoz Kabir, a former officer of Rupali Bank Limited, had registered those two companies -- Chartered Credit Cooperative Limited and the Loyds Commerce and Investment Cooperative Society Limited -- with the Department of Cooperatives. He was the managing director of both the companies.
As many as 4,500 people, including former army officials, members of parliement, and several current and former government officials, were fooled by Firoz.
Chartered Credit Cooperative Limited had deposits of more than Tk 1.34 billion while Loyds Commerce and Investment Cooperative Society Limited had Tk 520 million.
The victims had kept their money at those two companies eyeing high profits.
The depositors were provided regular interests for the first few months, but Firoz soon stopped paying them.
The victims alleged that the responsible government departments did not take any action against illegal banking activities of the cooperatives.
Such an investor is former secretary and former chairman of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) Abdul Malek Miah. He had an FDR (fixed deposit) of Tk 7 million with Chartered Credit Cooperative Limited.
He was promised 12 per cent interest per month.
Asked about the source of this money, Abdul Malek said it included his provident fund’s money after retirement and some money invested by his releatives.
Prominent singer Nashid Kamal had kept Tk 140 million at Loyds Commerce and Investment Cooperative Society Limited.
Her father, former chief justice Mustafa Kamal, had left her family the money. Nasheed Kamal told Prothom Alo, “Baba left the money for me and my siblings. But we cannot draw the money now as Firoz cannot be reached.”
This correspondent found the offices of the companies in Motijheel under lock and key. Some of the depositors alleged that important documents had been removed from the office.
The Department of Cooperatives sent a letter to the home ministry on 20 January restricting 12 top officials of the two cooperatives from leaving the country.
However, the ministry says they only got passport details of six people. So, they cannot ascertain whether the rest have already gone abroad.
Mili Rahman, wife of Birshreshtha Matiur Rahman, also invested money in the cooperatives. When asked, she said, "It is not important how much I had invested. Getting back the money is important. I have sought help from the Department of Cooperatives and the home ministry to get the money back, but to no avail.”
Many of the victims seeking anonymity alleged that such incidents take place for lack of supervision on the Department of Cooperative's part.
In many cases, some of the officials have been involved with the fraudulent companies.
According to the Cooperative Society Act, 75 per cent of the deposits can be given to the depositors as loans. However, someone who is not a member cannot take a loan.
However, the management of the companies lent money to various non-members.
According to the documents, Chartered Credit Cooperative Limited lent nearly Tk 1.40 billion to a number of individuals. A big chunk of that went to Firoz Kabir himself, his daughter Rezwana Kabir, brother Nawroj Kabir, sister-in-law Sabira Banu, brother-in-law Kazi Mafizul Islam, cousin Syed Anwarul Nafis, friend Azizur Rahman and his wife Sheli Rahman.
Now the investors have formed a committee with 12 active members to recover the deposits. Former army official Syed Anwarul Zakir, also an uncle of Firoz Kabir, is the president of the committee.
A number of members of the cooperatives have filed 18 cases against Firoz Kabir. He was once arrested but later got out on bail. Since then, he has gone into hiding.
It was learned that Anwarul Zakir sent a letter to the Department of Cooperatives asking for assistance about Firoz’s bail and requested to suspend 18 cases on 4 August last year.
He then said it was possible to recover money by opening the cooperatives again if Kabir was granted bail.
Asked what did Kabir do with the money, Anwarul Zakir told Prothom Alo, “I am not sure about that as I do not have any documents with me right now.”
“However, I know that he gave loans to several friends, relatives and companies," he added.
Department of Cooperatives director general Abdul Majid told Prothom Alo that the victims had kept their money as permanent deposits or FDR without following the rules set by the government.
“All the depositors are well-educated. Why did they deposit so much money in these cooperatives?” he asked.
"We have inquired about the cooperatives. Cases have been filed,” Abdul Majid continued, “Firoz Kabir was sent to jail. The members will not get back their money if Firoz stays in jail. Let’s see what can be done.”
Bangladesh Bank executive director and spokesman Sirajul Islam said, "Some people are putting money in non-banking institutions for higher profits. There is no security in these firms.”
“We have repeatedly warned the common people that investing money in non-banking institutions is illegal,” he added.
Rural development and cooperatives department secretary Kamal Uddin Talukder said, “I am new in this ministry. Stern actions will be taken if any of the officials of the department are found guilty.”