Several e-commerce companies have been facing issues regarding refunding their customers’ payments. Some companies have provided partial refunds, while others have not refunded anything at all. Additionally, certain companies lack proper records of their accounts, making it difficult for them to determine how much money they owe their customers. In some extreme cases, the court has ordered seizure of their assets.
Moreover, there are instances where customers paid for products but never received those, resulting in their money being stuck with third-party payment gateways. To address this problem, the Central Digital Commerce Cell of the Ministry of Commerce has compiled a list of 32 such e-commerce companies with information obtained from Bangladesh Bank.
As of yesterday, Thursday, the total outstanding amount owed to customers by these companies amounts to Tk 5.31 billion. Out of this, Tk 3.82 billion has been refunded so far, leaving Tk 1.49 billion pending. Customers who are waiting for their refunds are turning to various channels for resolution. Some are reaching out to the Ministry of Commerce, while others are directly contacting the e-commerce companies or the payment gateway providers. However, the situation remains challenging, and the remedy seems to be inadequate.
Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh assured Prothom Alo last Monday, “Multiple parties are involved in the refunding process after 30 June 2021. Despite the challenges, the Central Digital E-Commerce Cell is diligently working towards refunding the customers’ money, resulting in Tk 3.82 billion already returned to them.”
According to Commerce Ministry sources, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) is working on complaints against 50 e-commerce companies, including the aforementioned 32. Meanwhile in a meeting held on 31 July with the customers, the information related to the customer’s dues to some of the accused major e-commerce organisations surfaced.
Amount owed by Evaly unknown
The Ministry of Commerce has stated that it does not possess an accurate account of the exact amount of money Evaly owes to its customers. However, after 30 June 2021, an amount of Tk 260 million was found to be stuck with Evaly. Out of this sum, the mobile financial services (MFS) company Nagad was holding Tk 180 million, Bkash had around Tk 50 million, and the gateway company SSL had Tk 30 million.
Evaly managed to receive payments of Tk 15 million from Nagad, Tk 22.8 million from Bkash, and an unspecified amount from SSL. So far, the company has returned Tk 100 million to the affected customers.
Tanvir Ahmed, the Managing Director (MD) of Nagad, expressed their concern about this stuck money. He stated that they are facing difficulty in finding a proper channel through which they can return the money to Evaly's affected customers.
Order to freeze assets of Alesha Mart
According to the Ministry of Commerce, after the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police handled a money laundering case, an order was issued to freeze all assets of Alesha Mart.
However, the Chairman of Alesha Mart, Manzoor Alam Shikder, informed the Ministry of Commerce that Tk 424.3 million belonging to customers was held with Gateway SSL through Alesha Mart. Out of this amount, Tk 400 million has already been refunded to the customers. A list of 159 people has been submitted to the Ministry of Commerce for the return of the remaining Tk 27 million, and Bangladesh Bank has given approval for the refund.
The Ministry of Commerce has received information that prior to 30 June 2021, Alesha Mart had withheld Tk 1.16 billion from 8288 customers.
Nagad withdrew case
Nagad filed a case against Sirajganj Shop.com owner, Jewel Rana, in October 2021 for stealing Tk 474.3 million in cash within two days through fraudulent means. Nagad alleged that Sirajganj Shop withdrew the money by sending a series of ‘refund requests’ to return the customer’s money from Nagad on 30 and 31 August 2021. Upon discovering the incident, Nagad halted transactions in hundreds of accounts associated with Sirajganj Shop. However, a significant portion of the money had already been transferred to Sirajganj Shop owner, Jewel Rana, and his relatives.
When questioned about the matter, Tanvir Ahmed told Prothom Alo, “There was a lot of pressure to withdraw this case. So we have withdrawn it.”
Meanwhile, as per sources in the Ministry of Commerce, Jewel Rana claims that Sirajganj Shop owes Tk 140 million to 2700 customers. However, Sirajganj Shop has not yet provided the list of customers to the Ministry.
Dhamaka siphoned out 1.16 billion
Dhamaka Shopping is a company of the Invariant Group, as stated by the Ministry of Commerce. Its Managing Director, Jasim Uddin Chishti, mentioned that an allegation of money laundering amounting to Tk 1.16 billion has been made against his firm.
The other accused in the case include Invariant Telecom Bangladesh’s Managing Director Jasim Uddin Chishti’s wife, Saida Roksana Khanum, three sons - Tashfir Redoan Chishti, Nazimuddin Asif, and Mashfiq Redoan Chishti, along with director Safwan Ahmed. Furthermore, customers and merchants are owed an additional Tk 1 billion.
However, after 30 June 2021, customers were supposed to receive a refund of Tk 12.6 million from the company, but they only received Tk 8.9 million.
Non-cooperation of Dalal Plus
Abu Zubair Hossain alias Rabbi, one of the owners of Dalal Plus, told the Ministry of Commerce that Dalal Plus started business one year after the onset of Covid in the country. After 30 June, 2021, the company owes customers Tk 330 million. Of this, Tk 70 million was stuck with payment Gateway SSL and Tk 260 million with Surjamukhi Limited. Around180 million have been refunded to the customers and 150 million is pending.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, a list of 4,380 customers has been provided to Dalal Plus from payment gateway Suryamukhi Limited. But the company has returned the money to 2420 people. The remaining amount cannot be refunded due to non-cooperation of Dalal Plus.
Qcom has not yet paid Tk 810 million
According to the Ministry of Commerce, QCom owes customers Tk 3.89 billion. Its payment gateway company is Foster Corporation. Qcom has refunded 3.08 billion to 43,726 customers while Tk 810 million is still pending.
Customers are also facing difficulties in obtaining refunds due to a conflict between Qcom and Foster. On 25 May, Ripon Mia, the Managing Director of QCom, sent an email to the Ministry of Commerce requesting the return of money from Foster. Exactly one month later, on 25 June, Foster submitted a list of 22,724 individuals to the Ministry of Commerce for the refund of 820 million at that time. Qcom was also provided with a link to access this list.
Accused firms increased to 33
With information from Bangladesh Bank, the Ministry of Commerce has compiled a list of 33 accused companies. Among these, 18 companies have not issued refunds to their customers. However, the total amount of money not refunded by some companies is not significantly high.
Some of the companies that have not provided refunds include Needs, 24TKT, e-Orange, Wikum, Akashneel, Amar Bazar, Asthar Pratik, Barir Dokan.com, Infinity Marketing, Needle Corporation, Airmall, Bogura E Shop, Fanam.com, Laksura Enterprises, Pally Store, and e-needs.
Professor Suborna Barua from Dhaka University's International Business Department stated to Prothom Alo, "It is evident that many e-commerce companies are still not cooperating in refunding their customers. They will not be able to avoid it if the government enforces strict measures. In case of any technical issues, the government can appoint experts as needed. The dedication of the digital commerce cell in handling customer refunds remains to be observed."
When asked about customers who had transactions before 30 June 2021, Suborna Barua responded, "They can hope, but it is unlikely that their hopes will come true."