Hallmark scam: Will govt take court’s observation into consideration?

The masterminds of the notorious Hallmark scam have been subjected to capital punishment in a trial court. Abul Kashem, judge of special judge court-1 in Dhaka, handed down the verdict on Tuesday.

In the verdict, Hallmark Group managing director Tanvir Mahmud, its chairperson Jesmin Islam, and seven others have been awarded life sentences, alongside a fine of Tk 50 million. Apart from the duo, the other convicts took illicit benefits as associates of Tanvir.

Besides, the court sentenced eight people, including former managing director of Sonali Bank Humayun Kabir, to different terms. It should be noted that the concerned law denotes life imprisonment as capital punishment.

On 4 October 2012, the anti-corruption commission (ACC) filed a fund embezzlement case with the Ramna police station against Tanvir Mahmud and the others. It brought allegations of misuse of power, misappropriation of funds, deception, forgery, fund embezzlement and money laundering against them.

In the case, the plaintiff was Najmus Sayadat, and the investigating officer (IO) was Moshiur Rahman, then deputy director of ACC. It was alleged in the case that the accused embezzled Tk 5.25 billion through forgery.

According to the case statement, the Hallmark Group embezzled Tk 26.86 billion in total from the Ruposhi Bangla (then Sheraton) branch of Sonali Bank, in collusion with the bank officials. Prothom Alo first reported about the Hallmark scam and it then created a huge buzz.

The offenders were booked eventually, albeit delayed. However, the court’s observation is more important here as it commented that the criminals who play with the people’s deposits, the banking system, and the economy, deserve death.

Whether the trial of the kingpins of the Hall-Mark loan scam would help bring down corruption in the financial sector or not, depends on the overall stand of the government. One or two trials won’t improve the situation if loan scams in the banking sector continue one after another. Above all, the trial of the Hall-Mark loan scam has just ended at the trial court. It cannot be said that the perpetrators have been served justice until the settlement of appeal in the higher court.

A quick disposal of the appeal is necessary to ensure speedy punishment of the criminals. Though the government uses speedy trial act to dispose of political cases, it appears to be careless in this case.

Though the Hall-Mark scam is a sensational incident in the financial sector of Bangladesh, this is not the only one. There were many such loan scams that took place in the country prior to and after the Hall-Mark scam.

We could recall the incident of Abdul Hye Bacchu, a former BASIC Bank chairman. Though billions of taka was misappropriated during his tenure as chairman of the bank, no action has been taken against him yet.

The Sonali Bank officials who were involved with the Hall-Mark loan scam have been punished. But whether some of the members of the board of directors of that time had any involvement in the loan scam or not, also needs to be investigated for the sake of justice, we think.

The special judge court in Dhaka gave a stern warning to the people involved in irregularities and corruption in the financial sector. Now we have to observe how much the government takes this message into consideration.

All the criminals must be brought to book to restore order in the banking sector and stop embezzlement.