Beximco believes 'ordeal' is over

Date: April 22, 2010



Dhaka, Apr 22 (—Beximco officials say they believe the long-drawn harassment of their chiefs is finally over after a court on Tuesday dismissed two last remaining cases against them.

A string of cases were filed during the military-installed 2007-8 caretaker government against Sohel F. Rahman and Salman F. Rahman, chairman and vice chairman of the Beximco Group.

Many businessmen and politicians were prosecuted on corruption charges during this period.

The courts, the two brothers say, have put an end to the "preposterous allegations" and the "cases of harassment" that the caretaker government and its cohorts launched against the Beximco chiefs.

The land officials in Gazipur district on May 17, 2007 sued them for illegal occupation of land in what was described as politically-motivated cases.

"Both cases against the two leading entrepreneurs of Bangladesh were aimed to harass them," a lawyer for the two said after the court order on Tuesday.

Shahidul Alam Jhinuk, the chief judicial magistrate of Gazipur, gave the two separate orders after a government decision not to proceed with the cases. All of the items seized were returned once the case was dismissed.

The Beximco bosses allege that business rivals had made the emergency government move against them in a bid to smear the largest business conglomerate of the country.

"This was sensationalised in the press at the instigation of the then military-backed government to malign the business community," says Salman, a former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI).

Salman was imprisoned for over 18 months and Sohail forced into exile during the emergency rule. Whilst many initially supported the antigraft clampdown, the two brothers allege that many of these cases were initiated and filed by a reconstituted Anticorruption Commission which the caretaker government used to malign politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen.

The ACC began by publishing a list of 222 people, including Salman, whom it alleged were corrupt and who were required to submit their wealth statements. The ACC conducted investigations and filed cases against nearly all of these persons for possessing wealth beyond their known source of income.

However, Salman was one of only five persons against whom ACC did not file a case citing this charge since it found no assets which had either not been disclosed by him in his tax returns or which had been acquired by him through illegal or corrupt means

Initially, Salman was detained under the Special Powers Act, which requires the government to provide grounds of detention within 72 hours, which are then reviewed by a tribunal headed by a High Court judge.

The caretaker government could not provide any evidence to substantiate the grounds and the tribunal revoked Salman's detention order. The High Court, in the meantime, declared the detention order illegal.

The ACC initiated three cases against Sohail and Salman alleging that they used false title-deeds of land to obtain loans from AB Bank, IFIC Bank and Sonali Bank.

The ACC investigators did not proceed with the AB Bank case but did submit charge sheets in the cases of IFIC Bank and Sonali Bank.

The brothers claim that in the case of AB Bank, the name of the brother of the de-facto head of the caretaker government, former army chief Moeen U Ahmed, was mentioned in the FIR and on realising this, the ACC decided not to proceed.

However, in the cases of IFIC Bank and Sonali Bank charges were pressed in the court. Salman challenged the charge sheets in the High Court, which quashed both cases.

In relation to another case, a High Court bench cleared Salman of another "preposterous" charge of possessing US$ 18,503 in various currencies. The business tycoon's corporate conglomerate managed companies with a combined market capitalisation of US$ 1.75 billion.

Police also filed the foreign exchange violation case in 2007 when the military-installed caretakers were pursuing the so-called Minus Two formula of banishing the two top leaders of Bangladesh from politics.

The Beximco chiefs say a part of the media, at the behest of the then military intelligence officials, went a step further describing it as a money laundering case.

However, before a formal charge could be framed, Salman petitioned the High Court which stayed the proceedings, granted him bail before quashing the case altogether.

It is also claimed that private individuals also were coerced into filing criminal cases against Salman, changing disputes that were civil in nature into criminal cases, which the court dismissed.

Salman remains stoical despite the ordeal that these cases put him through and his time in prison.

"Since I came out (of prison), I have been able to totally concentrate on the businesses. As a result, we have been able to oversee the turnaround of companies, reduce our debt, thereby increasing our market cap from around US$ 250 million in August 2008, when I was released, to US$ 1.75 billion today.

"I feel I made the correct decision to opt out of politics as this has benefited our 40,000 employees and over 200,000 shareholders.

Continues Salman: "I am pleased that we continue to be a part of our country's economic revival after the terrible times faced during the emergency rule."