RAB arrests Evaly MD, wife amid embezzlement allegations

The Rapid Action Battalion has arrested Mohammad Rassel, the managing director of e-commerce site Evaly and his wife Shamima Nasrin, amid allegations the company embezzled funds from its customers.

The RAB started a raid on their house in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur at 4 pm on Thursday, said Commander Khandakar Al Moin, a RAB spokesman.

Rassel is also the CEO of the e-commerce company, while his wife Shamima Nasrin holds the position of chairman.

Earlier in the day, a fraud case was filed against Rassel and Shamima Nasrin for charging a customer for products that were not delivered.

A man named Arif Baker filed the case with the Gulshan police, claiming that he saw Evaly’s advertising and made orders worth Tk 310,000 from the site. The orders have yet to be fulfilled, long after they were made.

Baker contacted the Evaly offices and its CEO over the purchases and he responded with death threats, “frightening” the man, according to the police.

During the raid, about 50 people, identifying themselves as Evaly clients, demonstrated outside Rassel’s home demanding his release.

They said the law enforcers should not have arrested him because he had sought time to deliver their products and the customers would have benefitted had he been given the time.

The departure of the microbus carrying Rassel was hampered due to the protests. The demonstrators raised slogans for his freedom.

One of them, who identified himself with a single name, Sabuj, said Evaly owes him Tk 15 million. “But still I want the authorities to allow Rassel Bhai to do business.”

“Customers won’t get refunds if he stays behind bars,” said Sajibur Rahman, another customer.

Since its inception in 2018, Evaly has faced a debt of Tk 5.43 billion to its suppliers and customers.

Evaly’s system, which thrived on stupendous cashback offers, came under scrutiny after the Ministry of Commerce and Bangladesh Bank opened a probe into their workings and found a significant amount of embezzlement.

Evaly appeared to be lying low after the government announced new steps to regulate digital marketplaces, leaving scores of disgruntled customers in the lurch.

The Anti-Corruption Commission is also investigating claims from the commerce ministry that Evaly misappropriated Tk 3.38 billion from customers and merchants, and began investigations on Jul 8.

The court, on Jul 15, ordered a travel ban on Rassel and his wife, following a plea from the anti-graft watchdog on Jul 9.

THE RISE AND FALL OF EVALY

A graduate of Jahangirnagar University’s statistics department, Rassel had worked at City Bank before his first foray into the online trading business.

In an interview, he said he had opened the business by selling diapers online and planned the launch of an e-commerce platform on a large scale. Evaly began its journey in 2018 following the plan.

It drew a section of Bangladesh’s customers in a short time by offering up to 50 percent discounts on products like motorcycles, fridges, air-conditioners and cars.

Some days later, allegations surfaced that the company took up a strategy of keeping a huge number of customers waiting while delivering products to a handful of others in order to continue the business.

The real situation surrounding the company became clear when the Bangladesh Bank found the online platform owed its customers billions of takas as it failed to deliver products even after taking advance payments. It did not pay many of the sellers either after taking products from them.

As the authorities began investigating Evaly, some banks blocked card transactions for the company. Many sellers also halted trading with Evaly.

Bangladesh Bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit recently froze Rassel and Shamima’s bank accounts after the allegations of fraud surfaced.

The Evaly accounts submitted to the commerce ministry showed 214,000 customers ordered products on the platform. Until Jul 15, Evaly owed them Tk 3.1 billion.

Rassel appeared in a virtual press conference on Sept 4 amid the growing controversy, claiming he might have made mistakes but did not break the law.