The long-running saga of e-commerce firm Evaly seems to have come to a head this week, with the arrest of Chairperson Shamima Nasrin and CEO and Managing Director Mohammad Rassel from their residence in Mohammadpur. The arrests came hours after customers filed a case against the couple and some unidentified persons for embezzling money. The fate of Evaly has been the subject of frenzied speculation for months, as more and more evidence surfaced of the firm’s troubled finances, all fuelled by troubling revelations about its dubious business practices.
The case statement of one of the customers replicates the experience of numerous others. Arif Baker had ordered goods worth Tk 310,597 from Evaly in May and June after seeing attractive offers on its website on May 29. But he did not get the products within the stipulated time. His friends also ordered products from Evaly and paid in advance. The company was committed to refund the paid amount if the goods were not delivered within seven to 45 working days. As the products were not delivered, Arif called Evaly's customer care several times and on September 5, for the last time, but no solution was given. After Evaly failed to deliver the products and refund the money, Arif and his friends went to Evaly's head office in Dhaka's Dhanmondi on September 10. When they wanted to meet Evaly CEO Rassel, he (Rassel) became angry and shouted at them, Arif mentioned in the case statement.
Earlier the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), an agency of the central bank, asked the country’s banks to freeze transactions under any account controlled by Nasrin and Rassel. That followed some customers lodging complaints at the Ministry of Commerce, alleging that the e-commerce platform did not deliver products despite taking payments in advance.
According to Evaly, the company has Tk543 crore worth of liabilities — much higher than the amount found by an initial probe of Bangladesh Bank. Of this, it owes Tk311 crore to customers and Tk206 crore to merchants. Following the central bank report, the Commerce Ministry asked the Home Ministry to file a case against Evaly over the alleged embezzlement of Tk338 crore taken as advance from customers.
Several banks, including Brac Bank, Bank Asia, Dhaka Bank, City Bank, Mutual Trust Bank, and Prime Bank, suspended transactions with Evaly. According to Rassel, who repeatedly took to social media to garner support, most of the liabilities had been incurred due to business development and promotional expenses. However, former employees of the company said Evaly had spent money lavishly on corporate gifts and tours. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has also written to several government organisations seeking documents on Evaly.
In the midst of all this, there was news that one of the country’s leading business houses, the Jamuna Group, had agreed to invest upto Tk 1000 crore in the company. Once they pulled out, the rug was well and truly out from under their feet. With the latest development, the law may finally have caught up to the founders, who spent the entire summer dodging one bullet after another.