Monday, July 7, 2008

5 lakh depositors swindled by Jamaat's farmer wing

Bangladesh Chashi Kalyan Samity (BCKS), farmers' wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, but also registered as an NGO, remained the party's financial front through illegal banking in at least 17 districts over a decade, sources say.

Following a changed scenario after 1/11, the NGO has shut down its offices and swindled a huge amount of money collected through deposits, special deposit schemes and investment on loans among members since 1997.
The BCKS business was also unlawfully sold to Jamaat supporters for covertly continuing the financial activities.Dissident BCKS officials, involved Jamaat leaders and victims say the accurate amount of misappropriation cannot be found out without proper inquiry. But they add the figure would be minimum Tk 100 crore collected from about five lakh people.

The sources say each of seven BCKS branches in Rajshahi earned around Tk 2.5 crore annually and the NGO staffs were engaged in misappropriation from the very beginning. A large number of officials and employees, who were also members of Jamaat and its front wings, had left both job and party in protest against the cheating.

Some dissident employees are now on the run following threats on their lives by Jamaat men.Rafikul Islam, formerly a member of Islami Chhatra Shibir and BCKS field worker, on June 16 filed a general diary (GD) with Puthia Police Station. He says in the GD he has been threatened with death for revealing BCKS "secrets".

"I couldn't even imagine that Jamaat men were cheating," Nazmul Haque told The Daily Star. He was a Rokon (member) of Jamaat's Bagha unit and BCKS assistant director and resigned from both posts in September 2007. "Members used to express anxiety over future of their money. I always assured them that Jamaat men cannot cheat. I had such confidence in Jamaat that I promised to return their money were they cheated. ”My illusions are now shattered. I've become penniless as I had to return money to many members from my pocket."

Nazmul was not alone. Aminul Islam, a BCKS supervisor, field workers Rafiqul Islam of Damadi village, Nazrul Islam, Khalid of Namajgram and Aminul of Agla also left both party and job.

Even a number of Jamaat leaders have expressed opinions against BCKS activities. "We were against Jamaat's involvement in financial activities... loan recovery with interests and irregularities were turning us into enemies of the people," said Rafiqul Islam, Chapainawabganj BCKS president and district Jamaat executive member. "The closure came more as a result of our demand than the central direction," Islam added.Jamaat members -- Rakibul Islam, BCKS' regional coordinator, and Abu Hanif, Pabna district president -- echoed Rafiqul.

BCKS came into existence before the country's independence.Maulana Abul Kalam Muhammad Yousuf, founder of collaborator Razakar force and convener of Khulna district peace committee during the Liberation War, was also president of East Pakistan Chashi Kalyan Samity. Now acting Jamaat ameer, Yousuf still heads BCKS. The district and upazila Jamaat ameers were made BCKS advisers across the country, the sources say.

However, BCKS got registered as an NGO for farmers' welfare with the Department of Social Welfare in September 1990 showing its inception in June 1977. It also became involved in banking in different districts in 1997 and availed the social welfare department's approval to expand business across the country in January 2002. It also managed the NGO Affairs Bureau (NAB) registration in January 2005 for receiving foreign funds.

Economist Abul Barakat in an essay on "Economics of Fundamentalism" writes that NAB registration was contradictory to law of the land that says "political party or their affiliates cannot be registered with NAB".

Contacted, NAB Assistant Director (Registration) Pranab Kumar Ghosh said during registration there was no objection from the home ministry. However, Mozakkher Ali, deputy secretary, security-4 section of the home ministry, refuted the NAB claim.

"The Bureau preserves all rights of registering... We only look into some points whether the NGO men are accused of criminal activities or corruption or if the organisation is involved in any anti-state activities," he explained. Ghosh categorically said the process might have been influenced by the political government.

"Earning profit from not-for-profit organisations is a major strength of religion-based political parties and it's dangerous both for politics and society," said Golam Arif Tipu, senior lawyer and president of Rajshahi Concerned Citizens' Committee.

Months after 1/11 changeover, BCKS issued a directive to close all branches by December 2007, said insiders, adding, all branches were sold in time. The act violated BCKS constitution, which says opinion of 80 percent members is mandatory for the organisation's shutdown.Moreover, NAB and bank experts say by no means an NGO office or its activities can be sold.

"NGOs are aimed at non-profit social welfare jobs and can never be sold," said former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank (BB) Khondoker Ibrahim Khaled. He said BCKS banking activities without BB approval and sale of offices were punishable offence. BCKS central auditor Shah Alam admitted they decided for the closure following allegations of corruption and "we had no clearance from Bangladesh Bank".

He however denied the sale, adding, "We opted to hand over our activities to willing organisations on condition of returning the deposited money. "However, The Daily Star has managed a copy of a deed that says BCKS branch at Kahalu upazila in Bogra was sold up to Shekhahar Krishak Kalyan Samity (SKKS) at Tk 2.5 lakh in presence of central officials in August 2007.

Abdul Momen, Kahalu upazila Jamaat president and BCKS adviser, who signed the deed as a witness among others confirmed it. BCKS insiders say Baneshwar branch was sold to Namajgram Chashi Unnayan Sangstha (NCUS) at Tk 2.2 lakh in November 2007.

Marjina Begum of Jaigirpara of Puthia showed her NCUS passbook, saying she was depositing Tk 10 every week to BCKS since 1997. "The NGO men changed my passbook showing the earlier savings of Tk 4,450," she said.

Field workers Rafiqul, Khaled and Aminul said nine of them had proposed to buy Baneshwar office. But it was sold to their colleague Ferdousi Begum, a relative of the Rajshahi east district Jamaat president, Rafiqul said, adding, "The sale is merely eyewash to hide Jamaat's bid to retain its control.”

Asked how field workers became so rich to own NGO, Rafiqul said, "It's good business and we used to earn 5-10 percent commission from each member's enrolment."

"BCKS was, in fact, made for creating a source of earning for Jamaat and Shibir workers in rural areas," Rafiqul noted.

Ferdousi's version
Ferdousi Begum, NCUS president and a Jamaat supporter who became president from a field worker, told another story.

She joined BCKS as a field worker in 2001 and collected Tk 20 lakh from 350 members till 2006. "In 2004, I was frightened to see authorities avoiding bank dealings and keeping people's deposits in personal possession. I also saw field workers misappropriating money and the authorities turning a blind eye to it. "I thought of leaving the organisation but couldn't as I had to earn a living. I was trying to get registration of a new NGO."

Finally, with the help of relatives and local Jamaat leaders, she managed NCUS registration in early 2007 and started her new business from November. She admitted purchasing BCKS Baneshwar office and explained that she didn't have to pay for that. "In fact, I had people's savings with me."

Elsewhere in Rajshahi region, when Ferdousi saw rampant gobbling up of money, the dreadful rise of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) took place with funding from many so-called Islamist NGOs.

BCKS had seven branches at Baneshwar, Basupara, Sadar of Puthia, Monigram of Bagha, Godagari, Tanore and Charghat upazilas in Rajshahi.Besides, it expanded its activities to Boraigram and Gurudaspur in Natore, Kahalu in Bogra, Shibganj and Kansat in Chapainawabganj, Sadar, Atghoria and Ishwardi in Pabna and in Sirajganj of northern region.

Based in Dhaka, BCKS had branches in Narayanganj, Comilla, Netrakona, Kishoreganj, Khulna, Jessore and Kustia. Each office had around 30,000 members who enrolled giving Tk 40 to Tk 1,000 on monthly payments, or having fixed deposits for 10 years over promises of double return and loans. Although it was an NGO for farmers, they enrolled teachers, businessmen, and even beggars.

Back in February, all BCKS offices in Rajshahi were closed overnight without any notice or paying off members. As the members approached, Jamaat leaders assured them of payment through NCUS. But problem occurred in May when NCUS denied paying BCKS members.

During a visit to Baneshwar, no signboard was seen at former BCKS zonal office now taken over by NCUS, although it is mandatory for NGO offices. BCKS accountant Helaluddin and patron Ahmadullah were in the office. They claimed the office has now unpaid deposit of Tk 56.41 lakh, while they are to get Tk 78.13 lakh given on loans. They denied the office's sale to NCUS.

On bank dealings, Helaluddin said they don't need to submit money to banks as they distribute the collected money instantly on loans.

Mina Begum, a widowed domestic help of Agla village in Puthia, deposited Tk 5,000 in three years to BCKS Baneshwar branch."They promised me by Allah of doubling my money. Now they deny giving back even the original amount," she lamented.Marzia deposited Tk 11,000 over nine years. "They cheated me and snatched away my deposit book [only evidence of deposit]," said the elderly woman.A field worker took away her passbook in February saying her term of savings completed and money with profit will be returned. "Still I am after them in vain for my money and passbook."Businessman Eklasur Rahman of Shibpur deposited Tk 1.08 lakh, village doctor Naimuddin Tk 50,000 and Hazrat deposited Tk 21,800 with no returns yet. Hazrat and Ekhlasur went to Puthia police but didn't file a case following assurance by local Jamaat leaders.Jamaat leaders at a meeting at local municipal building on June 12 assured that their money would be returned in one month."I deposited Tk 1.08 lakh and should get Tk 2.2 lakh, but they pledge to give me Tk 1.4 lakh," said Ekhlasur."They had made me agree to receive Tk 21,000 against my Tk 21,800 deposit and gave me only Tk 4,000 three days after the agreement," said aggrieved Hazrat. Hajera, a beggar, expressed anxiety over her Tk 9,000. "What will happen to my money, I have none to lobby for it?"Day labourer Abdul Karim similarly lost Tk 10,400. Many like him gather in front of the closed offices with hopes but return empty-handed.

Rajshahi district (eastern) Jamaat Ameer and BCKS adviser Rejaur Rahman and Rajshahi BCKS president and Jamaat member Hafizur Rahman denied the allegations."We've just closed offices, not fled. We'll return everyone's money by turns," said Hafizur.He pinned the blame on field workers, who, according to him, fled with people's money. Asked if he filed complaint against them, Hafizur said, "No, but I will."However, he didn't go to police until yesterday. "BCKS got Jamaat colour as its officials and employees belong to the party" said Rejaur Rahman.Shah Alam, a BCKS central auditor, said BCKS head office had nothing to do with financial activities of branches, other than providing suggestions. Jamaat Publicity Secretary Tasnim Alam denied the party's link with BCKS. He claimed Islami Chhatra Shibir is also separate from Jamaat. "Shibir is as separate as BCKS until someone forcibly links those with Jamaat. The organisations just have similar ideologies."BCKS president and Jamaat acting ameer Maulana Abul Kalam Muhammad Yousuf repeatedly denied talking on BCKS. "I'm on the move", "I'm ill" or "I'll talk later," he said each time he was contacted.Puthia Upazila Nirbahi Officer Khaled Mamun Chowdhury said he has yet to receive any complaint. "However, hearing from journalists we started looking into BCKS documents and activities last week." Earlier in March, some 30 fraud NGOs swindled about Tk 500 crore taking advantage of lax administration in eight northwestern districts. Those fraud NGO leaders and their abettors have not yet been brought to book.

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