A government probe team detected that former agriculture minister Matiur Rahman Nizami was behind misuse, waste and misappropriation of at least Tk 35 crore of Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) during the four-party alliance rule.
The team also found that Tk 81.27 crore more of BMDA was wasted, misused or embezzled during that period.
In response, Nizami, who heads Jamaat-e-Islami, a partner of the four-party alliance, told The Daily Star, "I am surprised hearing about the probe report. I am in no way involved in the alleged corruption and misuse, waste and misappropriation of BMDA money. This is a politically-motivated move against me with an intention to defame me."
He said he never interfered in BMDA operations when he was a minister from 2001 to May 2003. The BMDA had been run by successive governments and it had no direct link with the minister, he claimed.
Headed by Omar Faruk Chowdhury, lawmaker from Rajshahi-1 constituency, the seven-member government team submitted its report to the agriculture ministry on May 31 recommending more intense investigation. The Daily Star obtained a copy of the report.
Other members of the team are lawmakers Shadhan Chandra Majumder of Naogaon-1, M Israfil Alam of Naogaon-6, Shamsur Rahman Sharif of Pabna-4, M Ziaur Rahman of Chapainawabganj-2 and Akhtar Jahan, representative of the agriculture ministry and Asit Kumar Mukutmoni, additional divisional commissioner of Rajshahi.
The probe team was formed on April 28 in a BMDA board meeting held with Ahad Ali Sarker, state minister for youth and sports, in the chair over allegations of irregularities involving at least Tk 400 crore of BMDA funds.
The probe team revealed involvement of M Asaduzzaman, former BMDA executive director and brother of fugitive militant patron Aminul Haque, in the mismanagement of funds.
According to the probe report, Nizami misusing his power as agriculture minister in April 2002 recommended Ataur Rahman Khan, a Jamaat follower and spare parts supplier, for BMDA work orders ignoring his own ministry's stance on the work.
The report finds the process for procuring 40 kinds of spare parts for repairing old diesel-run irrigation machines was initiated in 1998-99 fiscal year and several bids were called for this.
Finally Ataur Rahman Khan, a contractor from Thanthania, Bogra, offered the lowest bid among three bidders and was given the work order for the supplies in May 2001.
In July 2001, the agriculture ministry froze the work orders following allegations of irregularities. Additional Secretary Khawaza Abdur Rahman investigated the matter, says the probe report.
Next November an 11-member technical committee was formed following the ministry's directive to outline proper actions over Khawaza Abdur Rahman's findings and the committee in its December 2001 report termed the procurement illogical and technically not viable.
The committee also reported that the procurement would be "useless and a waste of money" as BMDA had by then started converting its diesel-run irrigation machines to electricity-run machines. It also mentioned lack of fund for the procurement.
In spite of the ministerial stance on the work orders and technical committee's opinion against the procurement, the probe team revealed that Nizami, in April 2002, recommended Ataur's application, misusing his power as the then agriculture minister, for processing the work orders.
Acting on Nizami's recommendation, Asaduzzaman "unilaterally and without any authority" allowed Ataur the month after the spare parts supply work worth over Tk 7.07 crore.
The probe team said Ataur Rahman Khan was a follower of Jamaat-e-Islami and Nizami recommended him as BMDA supplier violating rules.
Bogra Jamaat Ameer Shahab Uddin confirmed Ataur's involvement in Jamaat. "He [Ataur] as a businessman used to provide us funds when needed."
Ataur is now a director of pro-Jamaat Diganta Media Corporation and he was a former director of Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd, added Ataur's son Mostafa.
However, with Ataur's supplied parts, the BMDA repaired 48 Yanmar and Duetz irrigation machines spending Tk 3 crore, the report said, adding that only two of those machines have so far been used while the remaining 46 have become useless lying unused for several years.
The team revealed that the BMDA had to manage funds from other sectors for the "high-cost procurement" while the team believes new machines could have been bought at 60 percent of the procurement and repair cost.
The BMDA would also have been able to install 700 submersible water pumps or 100 deep tube wells with the money wasted for spare parts and repairs, the probe team said. It says that facts suggest that the supplier and those who helped him getting the job got benefited.
Using Nizami's recommendation, Ataur gathered many other spare-parts-supply jobs from the BMDA during the four-party alliance government's rule that involved Tk 35 crore. The probe team observed that this money was mostly wasted and misappropriated.
The probe suggested that legal actions against people responsible and measurers to recover wasted and misappropriated money should be taken. It recommended changes in the present BMDA administration as it found some of the officials also helped Asaduzzaman in his crimes.
A team member insisting anonymity said, "The nexus between the Jamaat chief and the militant patron's brother sounds quite mysterious which prompted us to submit the primary report just after five days of starting investigation…which is yet to be over."
Asaduzzaman is the brother of Aminul Haque, former post and telecommunications minister.
Aminul was Nizami's colleague in the cabinet and was also accused in the internationally focused Siemens bribery scandal. Aminul was later convicted in a case for abetting militancy in Rajshahi.
Both Aminul and Asaduzzaman have been hiding abroad since the changeover of January 2007. However, Asaduzzaman visited Rajshahi during the 2008 general elections to campaign for his other brother M Enamul Haque, a former inspector general of police and law commission member.
"BMDA is a project for agricultural growth in Barind land but its pace was hampered by some corrupt staff," said another member of the probe team.
The team also found that M Asaduzzaman as BMDA's chief executive spent some Tk 71 crore of the revenue sector at his own will and without any proper approval during his five-year term. The BMDA did not maintain any balance sheet of its income and expenditure leaving scopes for major financial mismanagement.
The probe revealed that the government allocated Tk 9.58 crore for Intensive Forestation Project in Barind region. Asaduzzaman arbitrarily used over Tk 2.66 crore of the fund for implementing an unapproved project called plantation on field isles in 17 upazilas under Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj and Naogaon.
The remaining Tk 6.92 crore was stated to have been spent for planting three lakh fruit trees and 20 lakh forest trees in the three districts in 2001-02 and 2002-03 fiscal years. To the team it seemed unrealistic that BMDA planted so many trees within the short time
Most of the trees were purchased from Centre for Action Research-Barind (CARB), an NGO opened up by none other than Asaduzzaman himself. The BMDA even provided government vehicles to help CARB carry trees to project sites, revealed the report.
Asaduzzaman allegedly wasted Tk 40 lakh for planting "high-yielding" mango trees in 2006-07 year. He purchased 24,168 mango plants for over Tk 6 lakh from CARB for planting those in Natore, Sirajganj, Pabna, Kurigram and Rangpur.
The probe found another stunning fact that the BMDA employed some 68 dealers for collecting irrigation water bills from farmers between 2001-02 and 2007-08 fiscal years and 28 of those dealers were CARB employees who drew about Tk 29 lakh as five percent commission on the bills.
This is an example how Asaduzzaman used a government institution for the benefit of his NGO, the probe report read.
Asaduzzaman was the executive director of both BMDA and CARB simultaneously and the probe found that around 50 BMDA staff were "forced" to enrol as CARB's life-long member by donating Tk 5,000 each, Tk 2,55 lakh in total, in 1998-99 fiscal year.
At least 72 BMDA staff enrolled as CARB members donating a total of Tk 13,920 at the same time.