How BASIC Bank’s Abdul Hye Bacchu bade adieu with 'dignity'

Former BASIC Bank chairman Abdul Hye alias BacchuFile photo

It was a usual afternoon on the weekend on Friday, 4 July 2014. The mastermind of the BASIC Bank scandal Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu entered the government residence ‘Tanmay’ in ‘Mantripra’ on Hare Road in Dhaka. He was alone and it was the residence of then-finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith. Sheikh Abdul Hye did not come here suddenly; he received a go-ahead and came to the finance ministry’s house after a confirmation.

That day Sheikh Abdul Hye, who was then chairman of BASIC Bank, tendered his resignation to Abdul Muhith. The next day, journalists asked Abdul Muhith why Sheikh Abdul Hye resigned and for what reasons. A smiling Abdul Muhith replied, “These issues are usually done for health reasons.”

But, why did he resign on Friday and even have to go to the government residence of the finance ministry? It was learned that the tenure of chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye ended in two days on Sunday. The Bangladesh Banks recommended sacking the entire board of directors of the bank before it. The government did not chose to do so, but allowed him to resign with ‘dignity’.

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Taking responsibility for Sheikh Abdul Hye’s appointment, Abdul Muhith told journalists in a low tone that day, “We made mistakes and we pay the price. When we appointed him we did not know, but we noticed afterwards. It is really difficult to find a good person in this country.” Former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank late Khandker Ibrahim Khaled opined it had been unethical to allow BASIC Bank chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye, who faced allegations of fraudulence and corruption, to resign.

The Anti-Corruption Commission filed cases against Sheikh Abdul Hye who took the BASIC Bank on the verge of collapse through endless irregularities and corruption. The agency is seemingly not active in arresting him either. Along with Sheikh Abdul Hye, his wife, brother, son and daughter, as well as Amin Ahmed who sold lands to the former BASIC Bank chairman, are also made the accused in lawsuits. Recently, the High Court ordered Amin Ahmed to surrender to a lower court in six weeks.

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Appointment still a mystery

Awami League formed the government in January 2009 after winning the parliamentary election in December 2008, and the government had started appointing former and incumbent leaders of Awami League, Jubo League and Chhatra League to the board of directors of the state-owned banks from September 2009.

With an exception, a former lawmaker from the Jatiya Party, Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu was appointed as the chairman of BASIC Bank. He was elected lawmaker of the Jatiya Party from the Bagerhat-1 constituency (Chitalmari, Mollahat and Fakirhat) in 1988. But, why he was appointed is still a mystery. When he was the chairman he recruited his people rampantly at the bank flouting rules, opened branches one after one without any necessity and took decisions that even went against the bank.

Media reported on corruption by Sheikh Abdul Hye after his appointment, but the government did not pay heed and reappointed him in September 2012 before ending his three-year tenure. At that time, BASIC Bank officials and employees thanked prime minister Sheikh Hasina, finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith and Bangladesh Bank governor Atiur Rahman.

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BASIC Bank was established in 1989. It was one of profitable and respected banks among the state-run commercial banks, and salary and allowance were higher than other banks. Its defaulted loans were 34- per cent, which rose to 68 per cent in 2014 after Sheikh Abdul Hye left the bank.

BASIC Bank netted a profit of Tk 640 million in 2009 but incurred a loss of Tk 4.2 billion following the wrongdoings of Sheikh Abdul Hye. To date, the government has given BASIC Bank Tk 3.3 billion from the budget, but the bank could not revive its strength.

Visible personal gains

Sheikh Abdul Hye owned 138 katha of lands at the Bashundhara Residential Area in Dhaka when was the chairman of BASIC Bank in 2012.

The amount of the land is 228.4 decimals in two plots--No 719 and No 720 in Block-I in Bashundhara. As 33 decimals equal one bigha, the area of two plots stands at 6.9 bighas and as 20 kathas equal one bigha, the amount of the properties stands at 138 kathas.

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In 2012, Sheikh Abdul Hye and his brother Sheikh Shahriar alias Panna bought 30.25 decimals of land and a house on Shaheed Sarani in the Dhaka Cantonment market area at a cost of Tk 1.1 billion. The investigation report of the Bangladesh Bank says that a large portion of the money disbursed during Abdul Hye’s time in the office was given as bribes to him and his brother.

Former lawmaker Shawkat Chowdhury took loans from BASIC Bank. He openly said he received the loans by bribing. Bangladesh Bank is also investigating how the money of the bank’s clients went to the accounts belonging to Sheikh Abdul Hye and his brother. The house in the cantonment area was also bought with the client's money.

Six ships were purchased for his family business entity Eden Fisheries and two ships for Crown Fisheries, which is owned by his brother Sheikh Shahriar, one year and two months after Sheikh Abdul Hye became the bank chairman in 2009. The eight ships are now worth about Tk 1 billion.

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Sheikh Abdul Hye built a two-storied house in his village Aruadihi in Mollahat upazila in Bagerhat and named after his parents as “Sheikh Hamid and Sbeda Villa.” There are also court injunctions on the sale of lands in Bashundhra and a house in the cantonment. The ACC filed a case on the allegation of embezzling and laundering Tk 947.5 million centring the purchase of the house in cantonment.

Top loan defaulters

Of the bank’s defaulted loan, an amount of Tk 43.9 billion is held up by 25 clients. Among them, Max Sweater, AB Group and SPDSP have regular loans while all the rest of the borrowers have defaulted.

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The bank's top defaulters Amader Bari, New Dhaka City Development, Emerald Auto Bricks, Ali Group, Bangladesh Development Company, Nilsagar Agro & Allied, Fiaz Group, Aristocrat Group, Mimco Carbon Limited, Vasavi Fashions, Welltex Group, Rising Group, Crystal Steel & Shipping, Basar Group, Zeil Wears, Map & Muller Group, Well Well, Regent Weaving, IG Navigation, Bay Navigation, Emerald Oil & Allied & Profusion Textiles Limited.

Rewards for associates

The government formed a new board of directors with Sheikh Abul Hey as chairman on 10 September 2009, and that board was believed to have been responsible for the collapse of the BASIC Bank. Two director generals (DG) of Prime Minister's Office Subhashish Basu and Nilufar Ahmed, additional secretary of education ministry Razia Begum, BSCIC chairman Mohammad Siddiqur Rahman and joint secretary of finance ministry Bijoy Bhattacharya were also appointed as directors of BASIC Bank on that day.

Besides, Chandpur Chamber of Commerce president Jahangir Akhand Salim, former Customs commissioner Shakhawat Hossain, then-chairman of the Accounting and Information System department at Kushtia Islamic University Kazi Akhtar Hossain and managing director of private company ARS Louvre Bangladesh Anwarul Islam became directors from the private sector.

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Subhashish Bose was promoted from the DG of the Prime Minister's Office to the vice chairman of the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB). He was the vice chairman of EPB and director of BASIC Bank during the entire episodes of the scandal. Later, he was also promoted to commerce secretary.

The government appointed Bijoy Bhattacharya as the economic minister at the Swiss Embassy in Geneva in that year when he became a director of BASIC bank. When he returned from Geneva, he was promoted to additional secretary and he later became vice chairman of the EPB. Kamrunnahar Ahmed, joint secretary of the Financial Institutions Division of the Ministry of Finance, became the director after Bijoy Bhattacharya was posted to Geneva. He was a director throughout the scandal. Later, she was promoted to additional secretary of the same division.

After becoming a member of the board, Razia Begum was promoted to the secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs. Secretary Razia Begum and BSCIC chairman Siddikur Rahaman died in a road accident in Manikganj on 31 July 2010 on their way to inaugurate the Tungipara branch in Gopalganj.

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As additional secretary Fakhrul Islam became the new BSCIC chairman, and the government appointed him as a director of the BASIC Bank. After that, he was promoted to the chairman of the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) but held the director post simultaneously. Later Shyam Sunder Sikder, a board member of the bank, became the chairman of BSCIC. He was promoted and made the secretary of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division. Shyam Sunder Sikder also served as the secretary of the Posts and Telecommunications Division.

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Besides, Anis Ahmed, assistant editor of Awami League's mouthpiece monthly Uttaran magazine, chartered accountant Kamrul Islam and former additional secretary AKM Rezaur Rahman also became directors of BASIC Bank during the five-year tenure of Sheikh Abdul Hye. Rezaur Rahman sent a letter in July 2013 highlighting the irregularities and corruption of Sheikh Abdul Hye Abdul and since then, he and Kamrul Islam could never return to the bank.

Tk 760m giveaway!

Three months after he became the chairman, Sheikh Abdul Hye started a scandal over the purchase of a building for the BASIC Bank headquarters. The bank’s board of directors’ 261st meeting minutes signed by Sheikh Abdul Hye on 19 December 2009 stated he expressed surprise and said, “It has been 20 years, yet the banks owns no building. It can no longer continue.” A decision was taken at that meeting to construct as building, which will be owned by the bank, and Tk 760 million was disbursed from the bank to purchase disputed properties at his sole authority.

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The building is opposite to Bangladesh Bank and Sena Kalyan Bhaban in the capital’s Motijheel, but BASIC Bank did not get ownership of a single floor of the building over the past 14 years. The banks signed an agreement with certain Sinku Akramuzzaman, but the agreement has no validity since it was unregistered. Besides, the land was an abandoned property when the building was raised on it. The agreement with Sinku Akramuzzaman was signed on 1 April 2010, and the building was said to be named “Zaman Basic Bank Tower.’ However, the bank still has no ownership of the property.

Finally lawsuits

Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu was enjoying a luxurious life by purchasing houses and ships with embezzled money. Following the repeated rebuke from the courts and criticism from lawmakers and experts, the ACC finally named him in a case in June 2023.

The agency filed 59 charge sheets against 145 people including Sheikh Abdul Hye, who was named in all but one charge sheet. The ACC, however, named none of the directors who had been in the board during the two terms of Sheikh Abdul Hye. Md Baduzzaman was the chairman of the ACC when the agency registered lawsuits over the BASIC Bank scandal. He could not finish the investigation, and the probe also continued during the next five-year tenure of his successor Iqbal Mahmood who joined the agency in 2016. Investigation into the cases over the BASIC Bank was completed after the incumbent chairman Mohammad Moinuddin Abdullah joined the agency in 2021.

Bangladesh Bank and the parliamentary standing committee on finance ministry held Sheikh Abdul Hye directly responsible for the BASIC Bank scandal, but he faced no action. Former finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith compared the embezzlement of BASIC Back to the robbery, at various times in parliament and outside the parliament. He even expressed frustration over his inability to take action against Sheikh Abdul Hye.

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Before becoming the mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation, when Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh was a lawmaker, he told the court on 14 October 2019, “To date, Sheikh Abdul Hye faces no case. It is a failure of the ACC not to arrest him even after such a big scandal, and the ACC be must held accountable.” He also sought the resignation of the ACC chairman Iqbal Mahmood for this failure.

But, where is Sheikh Abdul Hye now? None from ACC, police, finance ministry, Bangladesh Bank, BASIC Bank and court knows his whereabouts. Like former inspector general of police Benazir Ahmed or former National Board of Revenue member Matiur Rahman, Sheikh Abdul Hye might have been leading a luxurious and serene life in a developed country with his family.

He might not be leading a good life either, since he can no longer sell his land and properties. Yet questions remain as to whether is there no single government agency that will bring him back and at least ask him why he did it and whether he regrets it.

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

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