The immediate past board of directors of Sonali Bank approved a Tk 65.41 crore project loan for controversial Hall-Mark Group, which shows that the board was responsible, at least partly, for the Hall-Mark loan scam.
Of the amount, Tk 57 crore has already been disbursed, according to Sonali Bank.
The board approved the loan in April last year when Hall-Mark's liabilities to the state-owned bank was around Tk 500 crore, show documents.
“Had the board played its due role, the scam could have been detected much earlier,” Awami League lawmaker Tajul Islam, head of a parliamentary committee probing the Hall-Mark loan scam, told The Daily Star on Thursday.
He said the bulk of the Tk 2,686 crore Hall-Mark loan was disbursed in three months till April this year.
The lawmaker said the board had the scope for discussing these issues in detail in its monthly meeting, but it didn't.
“The board did not hide the issue from us… Tk 65 crore is very insignificant considering the size of the total amount of the loan,” said Tajul.
A Bangladesh Bank report revealed the scam in May, and said Hall-Mark along with five other companies took away Tk 3,547 crore from Sonali Bank's Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch between 2010 and this year with forged documents.
A Sonali Bank audit also found proof of fund embezzlement and blamed the bank's officials for the scam. Sonali Bank suspended its 31officials and made two deputy managing directors officers on special duty.
The board directors, who were appointed under political consideration, have been denying their involvement in the scam since it came to light. Rather, the board put the blame on the bank's management saying officials did not inform it about the Hall-Mark loans.
But Sonali Bank documents show that the board at its meeting on April 20 last year approved Tk 65.41 crore loan to Hall-Mark Spinning Mills.
The board gave the approval under some conditions that include raising Hall-Mark Spinning Mill's paid-up capital to Tk 5 crore from Tk 50 lakh and conducting a credit rating within six months of the approval.
“There was no controversy about Hall-Mark when we approved the loan. We gave conditional approval for the loan,” Quashem Humayun, a former director of Sonali Bank, told The Daily Star.
He said it was the management's duty to see whether Hall-Mark fulfilled the conditions or not.
“The board was not there to look after the bank's everyday work.”
He said the loan proposal of Hall-Mark Spinning Mills was assessed by the bank's Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch, a deputy general manager, a general manager, managing director and the bank's credit committee before the board gave its final consent.
Requesting anonymity, a senior Sonali Bank official said the management provided the board with Hall-Mark's credit report at the end of last year.