The World Bank’s external panel has expressed dissatisfaction over the exclusion of former communications minister Abul Hossain by the Anti-Corruption Commission in a high-profile graft case despite evidence of his involvement.
“The panel maintains that there were no legal reasons to exclude the name of the former communications minister from the initial list of persons under investigation,” said the panel in its final report.
The panel also stood by the Washington-based lender’s move to refer the corruption case to the governments of Bangladesh and Canada to prevent corruption in the bridge project.
The Bangladesh government has repeatedly claimed that no corruption had taken place in the project.
In the report, uploaded on the WB website yesterday, the panel asked the WB to learn lessons from the Padma bridge case.
“In order to take lessons from the Padma bridge case and avoid misperceptions and damage to the lender’s reputation, a proper communication of the case should be implemented, including to WB staff, the relevant national and multinational organisations, the government of Bangladesh and the companies involved.”
The report outlined why the name of the influential ruling party politician should be included in the case.
“The evidence suggested a criminal conspiracy that included the former communications minister as the most senior official personally involved.
“The ultimate award of the contract likely required his approval. He met with SNC Lavalin managers at the request of the former secretary, which was likely in furtherance of the negotiations for an illegal payment,” it said.
It added that Abul’s name and the indication of a payment of four percent were subsequently included in a list of people that were to receive compensation for their alleged involvement in the conspiracy.
“In order to achieve a complete and fair investigation, the former minister should be named in the FIR and placed under investigation,” the report said.
It, however, did not make public an annexure that detailed evidence justifying why Abul should be prosecuted.
Nonetheless, the panel applauded the ACC for issuing a first information report against seven of the eight individuals allegedly involved in the conspiracy.
The seven accused include the former secretary of the bridges division and officials of the communications ministry. All of them are now facing trial.
The three-member panel, headed by Luis Moreno Ocampo, former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said it would not be able to make a final assessment as to whether the investigation was “full and fair” until the end of investigation of the case.
The panel also expressed doubts whether the ACC investigation would be “full and free.”
The panel evaluated the WB’s activity and Bangladesh’s response in dealing with the graft charges.
“The Bangladeshi government reshuffled its cabinet but did not address the corruption conspiracy,” said the report.
It said the Bangladeshi government’s failure to adopt strategies forwarded by the WB obligated the lender to terminate the $1.2 billion loan in June 2012.
“Ultimately, the WB could not delegate its fiduciary responsibilities to national authorities and could not proceed with the project in the absence of a full and fair national investigation.”
Meanwhile, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman yesterday reiterated that Abul was not included in the case as its investigation was yet to find any prima-facie evidence against the former minister.
“Our investigation is going on. So at the moment we cannot ascertain whether Abul Hossain is involved or not. Abul Hossain will be implicated if the investigators find his involvement,” he said.
On June 11, WB Country Director Johannes Zutt handed over the final report on the ACC probe to Finance Minister AMA Muhith.