Monday, March 3, 2008

Swindler NGO men flee with Tk 250cr

2 lakh cheated of their last penny

Mozahar Hossain was enthusiastic about being a member of local NGO Freedom Unnayan Sangstha in Natore depositing only Tk 6,400, as the return seemed very promising. Initially he was asked to bring two more members to start getting Tk 570 a week until Tk 29,540 in 57 weeks.

Mozahar, a rickshaw-puller from Mominpur, Naldanga borrowed Tk 70,000 mortgaging his only piece of land and put down the money. He was planning to deposit more when he got back Tk 16,000 in weekly payments.

Housewife Sabiha Begum of Mollapara in Puthia, Rajshahi borrowed Tk 38,000 from Karitas, Grameen Bank and Padakkhep and credited those with the NGO. She was getting Tk 3,990 per week.

Like Mozahar and Sabiha, thousands of ignorant people from remote villages in Natore, Rajshahi and neighbouring districts were enthusiastic about making quick money, even by selling everything they had and taking loans.

But to their utter despair, Freedom director Ishaq Mia and other officials disappeared overnight with nearly Tk 250 crore closing its 2,000 branches on Thursday. The NGO collected the money from about 2 lakh members saying they were doing garment business.

Four members have been dead so far, three of them died of heart attack and the other committed suicide.

A huge contingent of police was deployed at villages in Naldanga following angry gathering of thousands of disarrayed NGO members. Furious people damaged and torched Freedom central office and 10 branches on Friday and assaulted a number of employees available on the scene.

Based in remote Nasratpur village at Naldanga in Natore, Freedom activities were spreading to other areas including Bagha, Charghat, Durgapur, Puthia, and Bagmara upazilas in Rajshahi, Naldanga, Sadar, Lapur, Bagatipara of Natore, Kahalu of Bogra, Joypurhat, Naogaon, Chapainawabganj, Dinajpur and Kustia.

Encouraged at Freedom's 'success', 57 similar NGOs, 37 registered, sprang out in Naldanga and surrounding villages over the last one and a half years. These NGOs are still active under the shed of local administration and influential people, said Sajjad Hossain Mukul, chairman of Shilmaria Union Parishad, Puthia.

"These NGOs have no other income than enlisting members, they don't deal money through banks, and offer 4.6 times higher in return… still Natore district administration was allowing their activities," Mukul complained.

He mentioned the names of some NGOs including Swadesh Unnayan Sangstha, Swadhin Unnayan Sangstha, Diamond, Janaseba, Nabajagoron, Daridra, Suryamukhi, Nakshi Bangla, Samaj, Asar Alo, Alor Dishari, Gram Jagoron, and Shekor Unnayan.

Nurul Islam, a businessman from Natore, said: "We drew the administration's attention when we saw NGO men carrying people's money in jute-sacks to unknown destination, but there was no-one to hear."

Mahfuz Alam Moony, a senior journalist, alleged local media repeatedly asked the deputy commissioner of Natore to take action as the NGOs were "illegally" cashing on government registration for social welfare.

"The DC without stopping the NGO activities for reasons unknown approved them ignoring majority opinion at a meeting at his office," he said, adding, "Some NGOs are still active."

Deputy Commissioner SM Ehsan Kabir denied receiving any complaint in this connection. He pinned the blame on police for not being watchful.

"At the January 27 meeting, we allowed the NGOs after asking police to be vigilant in the villages so that no NGO can go away with people's money. Social Welfare office was to look into the matter, but no-one worked."

"It's simply impossible for police to be vigilant round the clock over so many NGOs in the remote villages. Regulating the NGOs is an administrative job," said Shah Golam Mahmud, superintendent of police in Natore.

A member of Freedom Unnayan Sangstha committed suicide yesterday and three others died of heart attack since the news broke on Friday.

Jotsna Begum, 29, wife of Mozammel Haque of Leppara, Sadhanpur, Puthia in Rajshahi hanged herself yesterday morning as she lost Tk 26,000.

Azimuddin, 56, of Chowbaria in Durgapur upazila who deposited Tk 1.7 lakh died of heart attack on Friday.

Abul Hasem, 35, of Bangal Khalsi village who deposited Tk 12,800 and Baby Begum, 35, wife of Abul Kashem of Chhatarbhag in Natore, who deposited Tk 6,400 died of heart attack on Saturday.

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