Bangladesh investigates massive credit scam at state bank

Bangladesh has sacked a number of officials and launched a probe into the country's biggest ever financial scam at the largest state-run bank, after the massive embezzlement of an estimated Taka 4000 crore (USD 480 million) created a public uproar

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The financial irregularity was unearthed at state-run Sonali Bank which is alleged to have disbursed Tk 3,606 crore as loan without adhering to banking rules.

Finance Minister A M A Muhith today said he expected recovery of at least half of the embezzled bank loan shortly.

"We expect Taka 2,000 crore to be retrieved soon... We could realise rest of the amount also but this huge media outcry over the loan irregularity is impeding us from reviving the loan," Muhith told a news conference.

Muhith tagged as "culprits" the people involved in the credit scam, saying steps were underway to bring them to book actions while several bank officials have been fired or kept out of duty.

The independent Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) launched an investigation into the scandal involving a little known business group called Hallmark.

Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) sought Muhith's resignation for his 'failure' to ensure a vibrant and corruption-free financial sector.

"Thousands of crore of taka" have been looted in the financial sector, BNP secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said in a statement.

An audit firm in May this year reported that a branch of the Sonali Bank had disbursed Tk 3,606 crore as loan to Hall-Mark Group and other entities without maintaining banking rules and the top management of the bank had remained "mysteriously silent for a year" although the signs of irregularities in the branch came to light through various internal inspections.

A subsequent Bangladesh Bank investigation also revealed massive irregularities by the bank in sanctioning and disbursing of loans, especially to Hall-Mark Group and others, and

instructed it to take necessary actions.
Sonali Bank on August 30 suspended 17 of its officials for their alleged involvement with the loan scam and media reports hinted at the involvement of several government stalwarts including two advisers of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Anti-Corruption Commission, which recently started investigation into the loan irregularity, had quizzed 19 Sonali Bank officials till Monday.

The parliamentary Standing Committee on finance ministry earlier this week decided to look into activities of the state-owned commercial banks in the wake of the allegations of irregularities in loan disbursement to Hallmark Group.

The country's commercial banks provide an aggregate amount of Taka 400 billion every year as loans and credits.

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