Appointing an administrator remains stuck as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce are passing the buck
Amir Ali, from Kaliakair in Gazipur, retired in February 2002.
Allured by the promise of high returns (Tk5,000 every six months against an investment of Tk1 lakh), he deposited Tk1 crore – using his pension fund, family savings and selling his wife Raushan Amir's property – in Jubo Karmasangsthan Society or Jubok.
He was promised that he would get Tk5 lakh per six months in profit. But Jubok did not give him any profit, instead it kept him waiting on various pretexts. His investment and all supposed profits got stuck with the closure of the controversial NGO's activities in 2006.
Amir Ali died from heart disease in January this year. He had been waiting for almost one and a half decades to get back his money. He tried his best to get some action and visited many government offices but could not recover even a single penny of the lost money.
His wife Raushan Amir is also sick now. She told The Business Standard, "Since the closure of Jubok, I have been hearing that an administrator would be appointed in the company and that we also will get our money back. But nothing of that sort has happened yet.
"My husband did not get proper treatment for lack of money. I am going through a similar situation."
After Jubok's activities were suspended in 2006 on charges of conducting illegal banking activities, the government promised to refund the depositors by appointing an administrator in the company. But, no administrator has yet been appointed. And, none of the 3.5 lakh investors has got back a single penny of their investment of Tk2,500 crore.
Appointment of an administrator in Jubok is still up in the air as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce could not agree as to whose job it was.
As Jubok got government registration under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 that is under the Ministry of Commerce, the finance ministry says the commerce ministry is responsible to appoint the administrator.
On the other hand, the commerce ministry says the finance ministry should appoint the administration in Jubok, as the company was conducting illegal banking activities.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January this year instructed the finance ministry to appoint an administrator in Jubok. Ten months on, her directive is yet to be carried out as the two ministries do not see eye to eye on the issue.
Asked about this, Finance Minister AHM Mostafa Kamal told The Business Standard, "The Ministry of Commerce is responsible for appointing an administrator in Jubok. We have written to the commerce ministry about this as per the instructions of the prime minister.
"It is the commerce ministry that has to carry out the task of appointing the administrator."
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told The Business Standard that discussions are going on to resolve the prevailing issue. "A decision will be reached soon," he hoped.
Mohammad Farashuddin, former governor of the Bangladesh Bank and chief of the first commission formed by the government over the Jubok scam, told TBS, "Our commission recommended revoking Jubok's licence, trying the Jubok founders by setting up a special tribunal, and appointing an administrator in the organisation."
"It is unfortunate that none of this has been implemented yet," he said.
Those who have deposited money in the institution have long been agitating under the banner "Juboke Khotigrostha Janakalyan Society". They have also filed a writ petition in the High Court seeking the appointment of an administrator. The hearing over the writ has not been completed yet.
According to the Janakalyan Society, at least 2,000 depositors have already died. There were a number of instances of suicide among Jubok investors in the last one and a half decade.
Deepak Datta, an English teacher at Moralganj Sanyasi High School in Bagerhat who invested Tk26 lakh in Jubok, committed suicide in 2011.
He collected the money from his family members. Unable to take pressure from his relatives after being conned by Jubok, he killed himself.
Ishtiaq Hossain from Nagarpur in Tangail also committed suicide as he could not bear the stress of losing Tk21 lakh to Jubok scam. There are more incidents like these two.
Jubok worked with blessings of political bigwigs
Jubok started its activities in 1994 with 40 directors under the leadership of Chairman Abu Mohammad Saeed and Executive Director Hossain Al Masum, without any government registration.
The company got registered in 1997 under The Societies Registration Act, 1860.
From its inception, Jubok started to lure in monthly deposits at a minimum of Tk500 per member, promising to pay Tk10,000 in annual interest against a deposit of Tk1 lakh.
The company also collected money with the promise of housing project plots.
The company collected Tk2,500 crore from depositors before its closure in 2006. Before that Jubok had started at least 20 ventures with the collected fund.
Jubok spread its illegal activities with political patronisation. During the tenure of the BNP regime in 1994, the organisation worked with the support of several influential ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen.
After the Awami League came to power in 1996, Jubok got the blessings of some influential ministers and legislators.
And then, after the BNP came back to power in 2001 again, some members of that government also provided political backing to Jubok.
In the wake of widespread criticism over the illegal activities and allegations of customer fraud, the Bangladesh Bank shut down the activities of Jubok on charges of illegal banking activities in July of 2006. The central bank also asked the institution to pay back the depositors' money with interest.
Police also filed a case against Jubok in 2014, but the investigation of that case has not been completed in six years. All the 40 accused in the case are out on bail.
Recommendations of two commissions and inter-ministerial committee ignored
The conned depositors launched a movement after the activities of Jubok was shut down.
To find ways to return the swindled funds, the government formed a commission in January 2010, headed by Mohammad Farashuddin, former governor of the Bangladesh Bank.
On the recommendations of the commission styled "Jubok Commission", the government formed another commission in May 2011, making former joint secretary Rafiqul Islam its chairman.
Both the commissions recommended the appointment of an administrator in Jubok to recover and return the money to the depositors and opined that the finance ministry and the commerce ministry are responsible for carrying out this task.
But none of the two ministries has taken the responsibility of appointing the administrator.
In the light of the reports of the two commissions, an inter-ministerial committee was formed to specify the responsibility of appointing an administrator in Jubok. The committee in November 2014 recommended that the commerce ministry should take up this responsibility.
Six more years have elapsed since then, but no administrator has yet been appointed.
The aggrieved depositors met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina January this year. Later, the prime minister directed the finance minister to take steps to appoint the administrator.
The finance minister then sent a letter to the commerce ministry to appoint an administrator in Jubok to implement the prime minister's directive. Even after 10 months, the commerce ministry is yet to appoint one.
Former commerce ministers shun responsibility
The Business Standard spoke to three former commerce ministers to find out the reason behind the delay in appointing an administrator in Jubok.
The two commissions were formed during the tenure of the then commerce minister (2009-2011) Colonel (Retd) Faruk Khan. He told TBS that appointment of the administrator is the responsibility of the finance ministry.
"Even though Jubok is registered under the law, the organisation has collected money from people through illegal banking practices. Therefore, the onus of appointing administrators lies with the Financial Institutions Department of the Ministry of Finance. Their responsibility was to appoint an administrator long ago," he explained.
In this regard, former commerce minister (2011-2014) Golam Mohammed Quader told The Business Standard, "Appointing an administrator for the Jubok is not the responsibility of the commerce ministry alone. The finance ministry also has some responsibilities.
"That is why I requested the finance ministry to work with us. Later, the matter got stuck for various reasons."
Citing bureaucratic tangles as the reason behind it, he said, "Be it the commerce ministry or the finance ministry, it was necessary to take initiatives to return the money to the customers by appointing an administrator quickly. We could not do that."
Tofail Ahmed, a former commerce minister (2014-2019) and now chairman of the parliamentary committee on the commerce ministry, said it was not possible to decide on the appointment of an administrator in Jubok for various reasons.
He also said the finance ministry had sent a request to the commerce ministry in March last to appoint an administrator on the prime minister's directives. The matter did not proceed due to the pandemic.
However, it will be discussed in the parliamentary committee soon, he added.
Dr Mohammed Farashuddin, the first president of the Jubok Commission, said it is important to end the customers' sufferings by appointing an administrator to the organisation quickly.
Probe into case not over, writ also pending
The government probe body formed in 2011 recommended, after two years of investigation, launching lawsuits against Jubok officials' over their alleged embezzlement of money.
Later, the Paltan police filed a case in July 2014 on the instructions of the home ministry against 40 Jubok officials, including it's chairman Abu Mohammad Saeed and executive director Hossain Al Masum.
Police investigated the case for about a year. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was then tasked with the investigation. After two more years, the CID got the responsibility of the investigation. The probe is not over yet and the accused are all out on bail.
In October 2016, the Janakalyan Society filed a writ petition in the High Court seeking the appointment of an administrator to Jubok.
In the writ petition, 12 persons, including the secretary of the Ministry of Finance, the secretary of the Ministry of Commerce, the Bangladesh Bank and the law secretary, were made respondents.
The High Court that year issued a four-week rule to the respondents asking why an administrator should not be appointed to Jubok. The hearing has got stuck as the respondents have not replied to the rule as yet.
Jubok's properties dispossessed
With the Tk2,500 crore collected by the Jubok from depositors, several business establishments were set up in the name of its officials. Land and houses were also purchased.
The Farashuddin Commission reported the then value of the properties owned by Jubok was about Tk6,000 crore.
About 3,000 acres of land for 40 housing projects and 18 houses were bought in different districts of the country, including Dhaka with the depositors' money, according to the report.
In addition, brokerage houses, printing presses, IT firms, agro firms, tourism management firms, telecom and sea food establishments were set up in the name of Jubok officials. The Jubok also invested in hatchery and crocodile farming.
Although 14 years have passed since the closure of the Jubok, the government has not confiscated any property or business of it.
All its Businesses are closed. A part of the property is in the occupation of influential people. Most of the property has been sold and the money has been shared by the Jubok officials who have also withdrawn deposits from different banks.