Haldar’s grand scheme unravels in West Bengal

In a sensational development that no one saw coming, the most notorious white collar criminal Bangladesh has known, Prashanta Kumar better known as PK Haldar, was traced down and arrested from a hideout in West Bengal by India's very powerful Enforcement Directorate.

Haldar's unparalleled notoriety made it an almost 'where-were-you-when-it-happened' moment. In years to come, we all may recall where we were or what we were doing, when we heard the news of PK Haldar's arrest, that filtered through to Bangladesh from Indian sources sometime after noon on Saturday, May 14.

To be fair, the fact that the Indian authorities were onto something had been made fairly clear over the course of the weekend. On Friday (May 13), well before Haldar's arrest was completed, the Indian Bengali media outlets based out of West Bengal (India's larger states tend to have their own self-sufficient media) were abuzz throughout the day on the trail of several ED teams who had fanned out throughout state, with many of them in Ashoknagar, a fairly nondescript town located in the North 24 Parganas district.

The ED, which is a central government agency (i.e. under New Delhi's control), raided 10 properties on Friday, each more palatial than the next, saying Haldar and his associates bought the properties by using fake Indian identities. They may have chosen a town located off the beaten track, but within Ashoknagar, they stood out for their jaw-dropping dimensions and design connoting luxury and wealth.

Even then, nobody really believed Haldar himself would be found. Remember, as far as Bangladeshis knew, he was comfortably settled in wealth and luxury in Canada, where authorities believed he had moved on to following his daring escape across the border under threat of arrest by Bangladeshi law-enforcers in October 2019.

The former managing director of NRB Global Bank and Reliance Finance Limited, was believed to have fled to Canada after the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bangladesh began an investigation into his illegal activities as part of the casino raids in 2019. Following his arrest however, it is learnt that he has been in India since March last year.

It was also reported that Haldar had been arrested on the basis of information the ACC of Bangladesh had gleaned during its investigation and provided to Indian authorities. The commission was meant to disclose further details on the day after the arrest, but it turned out to be a damp squib.

Rather, the raids as well as the arrests were reported by most of the Indian media as part of Delhi's crackdown on the alleged 'hawala' scam in West Bengal, what we call hundi in Bangladesh, although the scam involving prominent politicians of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress that has been alleged, is a much more wide-ranging and nefarious set of activities.

Bangladeshi involvement started seeming even more remote when Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the authorities in Bangladesh still had not officially received any confirmation on the arrest from their Indian counterparts. Any efforts to bring him back to the country could obviously only begin once there was confirmation of the arrest.

"PK Haldar has been posing as an Indian citizen by the name of Shibshankar Haldar," the ED said in a statement. He managed to obtain various government identities, including a ration card from West Bengal, Indian Voter ID card, permanent account number, and multi-purpose Aadhar card, the directorate added.

He even managed, along with his associates, who were also arrested, to float companies in India on the basis of the fraudulent documents. Sources told our sister newsagency UNB that the three could eventually be handed over to Bangladesh. But since it was clear that Haldar had committed a slew of crimes under Indian law as well, these may have to be tried first through the Indian courts. But of course, a political agreement between the two governments can easily override any such obligation.

According to authorities in Bangladesh, PK Haldar had laundered about Tk80 crore to Canada and amassed about Tk 426 crore beyond his known sources of income, possibly rising upto an eye-watering Tk 11,000 crore. At least 28 corruption cases have so far been filed against him and dozens of his associates in Bangladesh.

It also emerged that in addition to his Bangladeshi and Canadian passports, Haldar was now also in possession of a third - from the Caribbean nation of Grenada, that has one of the world's earliest citizenship-by-investment schemes, easily obtainable in exchange for investing $150,000 and above. B he is said to have used his Bangladeshi passport to go to India. Despite facing legal action over financial irregularities at home, Haldar continued his illegal activities while in India.

The powerful ED, which specialises in fighting financial crimes, similar to the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit, has ascertained that the immovable properties bought or built by Haldar and his associates were not restricted to Ashoknagar - they were also located in some of the poshest localities of Kolkata.

The Bengali Madoff

PK Haldar and his associates took loans amounting to Tk 2,000 crore from the FAS Finance and International Leasing And Financial Services Limited (ILFSL) against a slew of non-existent companies that were conjured out of thin air as part of his grand scheme. In reality, the amount was directly transferred to accounts under his or his many minions' control.

He used layering procedures to conceal the source of the money through a series of transactions and bookkeeping tricks, that allowed the scam - which in fact consisted of a series of interlinking scams - to stay hidden for years.

For instance, ACC was able to uncover that Haldar took a loan of Tk45 crore in the name of Konica Enterprise, but Tk11.32 crore of the amount was transferred, using three cheques of Bangladesh Bank to repay the liabilities of Sandeep Corporations, SA Enterprise, Arabi Enterprise, Drinan Apparels Ltd, Varna, Amexo and P and L International Ltd - that all turned out to be non-existent companies.

Haldar took the rest of the amount, using the name of MTB Marine Ltd, another borrower of FAS Finance and Investment Ltd, using customer cheques issued by One Bank Ltd, Mercantile Bank Ltd and Bank Asia Ltd.

Similarly, Tk35 crore was issued in the name of Moon Enterprises, Tk38 crore for Messrs Bernarbi Enterprise and Tk40 crore for Anan Chemical Industries Ltd. It is thought that through a series of bewildering circular transactions, the money eventually ended up in accounts controlled by Haldar.

In addition, Tk174 crore was issued in the name of Newtech Enterprise Ltd, Nature Enterprise Ltd, Deya Shipping Ltd and MTB Marine Ltd. The four non-existent entities took another Tk60 crore in loans later as well.

The ACC inquiry panel also found that Purnima Rani Haldar, wife of PK Haldar's associate Swapan Kumar Mistry, took a loan of Tk60 crore as working capital for MTB Marine Ltd, but the amount was transferred to several bank accounts and made-up institutes owned by PK Haldar's relatives and associates, including former Mercantile Bank Ltd director AKM Shaheed Reza.

Haldar's associates Kolasin Ltd Chairman Atish Mridha and his brother Uttam Kumar Mistri took Tk79.70 crore in loans while Songkho Bepari, owner of Moon Enterprise, took Tk83.34 crore.

Later, Haldar's cousin Amitav Adhikari transferred these amounts to different accounts of Sigma Capital Management Ltd, Hal International, Paramount Spinning Ltd, NRB Global Ltd and Bank Asia's Dhanmondi branch.

Arthscope Ltd Chairman Mira Deuri and MD Prashant Deuri took Tk75 crore, while Neutral Ltd owners Swapan Kumar Mistry and Kazi Mumrez Mahmud took Tk80 crore loan from ILFSL.

Anan Chemical owner Amitabh Adhikari, Purnima Rani Haldar, Rajiv Som, Ratan Kumar Biswas, Omar Sharif took Tk71 crore from ILFSL as well as FAS Finance. The sums were later transferred to another account created by PK Haldar, the ACC said in its report.

The BFIU said that about Tk2,200 crore from FAS Finance and Investment Ltd, Tk2,500 crore from Reliance Finance Ltd and about Tk3,000 crore from People's Leasing and Financial Services Ltd was ultimately embezzled, and then laundered abroad using the names of these and other hoax companies that only ever existed on paper as part of the Haldar scheme.

The BFIU said there was no mortgage against the loans, meaning there was no possibility of recovering them. With the help of the BFIU, the government has so far frozen over Tk2,700 crore of Haldar's money, of which around Tk1,400 crore was with different bank accounts.

What ACC found

The bank accounts created in the name of these hoax companies amassed deposits amounting to an incredible Tk 6080 crores in the space of just 12 years. Incredibly, he managed to also withdraw almost the entire amount - Tk 6076 crore, according to an ACC chargesheet against Haldar. 12 years as 16 banks of the company. Tk 6,006 crore has been withdrawn from these bank accounts. These 178 accounts spread across 16 banks today contain a grand total of Tk 4 crore, plus some change.

This information has come to light from the charge sheet submitted in court in connection with the money laundering case against Haldar. It said PK Haldar, opened an anonymous paper company to hide the source of his illicit money. Accounts belonging to his close associates Avantika Baral, brother Pritish Kumar Haldar, cousin Shankho Bepari were the beneficiaries of the money withdrawn from the banks.

According to the ACC investigation report, PK Haldar has identified himself as a Grenadian citizen to hide the source of illicit money. He also runs a company called PTE Limited as a citizen of that country. He did financial transactions with his brother Pritish Kumar Haldar in Canada, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and India. In Kolkata, Pritish has two bank accounts in HDFC and ICICI Bank. However, the ACC did not know the full details of the transactions of these two accounts.

Gulshan Anwar, head of the probe team and deputy director of the ACC, told Prothom Alo that information on the transactions of two bank accounts in Kolkata would be collected. Accounts will be given to the court after collecting the accounts of their smuggled assets in other countries.

In January 2020, it was reported that PK Haldar had taken out Rs 3,500 crore from four financial institutions in the country. But before that he left the country. On January 8 of that year, the ACC filed a case against him on charges of illegal acquisition of assets worth about Tk 265 crore and money laundering. The investigation of the case involved the involvement of 14 people including PK Haldar.

The four institutions whose monies were withdrawn in the name of loans are International Leasing and Financial Services Limited (ILFSL), People's Leasing and Financial Services (PLFSL), and FAS Finance and Investment Limited (FFIL) and Bangladesh Industrial Finance Company (BIFC).

More than a Ponzi scheme

A total of 35 cases have been registered against 83 people, including PK Haldar, for embezzling money from ILFSL and FAS Finance in the name of loans for imaginary companies. Many of these loans however were only possible due to the institutions issuing them flouting the rules of banking and company law, that Haldar was ideally placed to take advantage of. . Of the 13 people arrested in these cases, 11 have given confessional statements under section 164.

A review of the money laundering case documents and the statements of five men currently in custody had revealed the scheme's particulars - how Haldar along with his associates had forged documents in the name of company after company that had no existence outside the papers needed to swindle the targeted institutions out of their money - that in some case belonged to depositors.

In explosive testimony, Ujjwal Kumar Nandi, chairman of PLFSL - that faces imminent closure of its business due to the losses it has incurred as part of the Haldar affair- said in his deposition that a deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank, a general manager as well as others were paid Tk 1 crore annually from 2009 to 2015, to cover up or ignore all signs of the misdeeds being perpetrated at such a grand scale. Valuable gifts were also purchased for some VIPs.

A 10-year scam

According to the ACC report, from 2009 to 2021, Haldar earned a total of Tk 12 crore from his salary and allowances at the jobs he legally held from his job. According to his last income tax returns, his family and other expenses amounted to Tk 4 crore.

The indictment states that till June 30, 2020, PK Haldar became the owner of immovable property worth Tk 391.65 crore. At the same time the value of movable assets was over Tk In all, in 10 years, he came to possess Tk 433 crore plus change, as far as the ACC have been able to make out. Of this, at least Tk 425 crore is now alleged to have been illegally amassed.

According to the chargesheet, PK Haldar deposited cash in his own name as well as in the names of 13 associates, and bought land, houses and cars. There are two flats in his name in Dhanmondi of the capital. There are 22 anonymous cars in his name. He has bought 4,164 decimals of land in his own name at a cost of Tk 228 crore. Most of the land was bought in Narayanganj, Narsingdi and Dhaka.

According to the chargesheet, PK Haldar's mother Lilabati Haldar was a primary school teacher. As of May 2021, Lilabati's bank account had witnessed transactions amounting to Tk 131.38 crore. Besides, some 563 decimals of land was bought in Narayanganj, as well as some flats, in the name of Avantika Baral with a market value of around Tk 24 crore. His bank account had been emptied of nearly Tk 14 crore in withdrawals.

It was further said that Haldar's cousin Shankha Bepari had transactions worth over Tk 66 crore in his bank account. In the name of another cousin, Amitabh Adhikari, 222 decimals of land had been bought in different parts of the country including Manikganj, while the bank account in his name had witnessed transactions totalling close to Tk 60 crore.

Handover may take time: Doraiswamy

Speaking to the media after a meeting Tuesday afternoon (May 17) with Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami hinted that it may take time to hand over PK Haldar to Bangladesh, in iew of the legal procedures that have to be followed.

Doraiswamy and Bin Momen discussed preparations for the foreign minister-level Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meeting between Bangladesh and India that will be held on May 30 in New Delhi.

Doraiswami said that the issue of PK Halder had been discussed during his meeting with the foreign secretary. This is part of the normal cooperation between the two governments.

"We have all the requisite cooperation to deal with criminal elements of both the countries including legal assistance," he added.

The Bangladesh government had provided the concerned Indian agency with the requisite information. The Indian agency took steps after verifying all the info they had. Everything happened through the legal process, while India and Bangladesh are known to cooperate against organised crime.

When asked if Bangladesh had requested for Haldar to be extradited, the Indian high commissioner replied that this is a matter of legal process. He was arrested last week over the weekend. "There will be a response from our side at a point of time based on the information provided," he added.

Doraiswami said, "These things take time. This is not like exchanging Christmas cards. These are things that are done through a legal process. And this must be done gradually. We are working with Bangladesh on this. The information was provided by Bangladesh."

The foreign secretary also reiterated this, specifying that the information was provided by the ACC.

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