The extraordinary rise of PK Halder and the spectacular fall of firms he controlled

Proshanta Kumar Halder, known to all in Bangladesh now as PK Halder after a scam involving billions of takas, took control of several financial firms and built a network of associates to embezzle the funds. He has been arrested in India after two years of hiding.

The Anti-Corruption Commission prosecuted 64 people, including members of his family, officials of the firms and his lawyer, in 34 cases against Halder. Thirteen of them are behind bars in Bangladesh while more than 100 people have been slapped with travel bans pending trial.

Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of 83 associates of Halder and seized immovable properties worth Tk 10 billion. The ACC is investigating allegations against Halder of embezzlement of Tk 100 billion. It traced Tk 60.8 billion of the funds in banks and seized them. It will be clear after investigations how much money Halder and his associates embezzled.

The Bangladesh Bank is also investigating the matter as its former deputy governor SK Sur Chowdhury and current Executive Director Shah Alam have been quizzed by the ACC over the scam.

Law-enforcing authorities in India arrested Halder and five of his associates on Saturday after raiding properties they bought by using fake Indian identities. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal hopes to bring Halder back and recover the embezzled funds soon.

THE RISE OF PK HALDER

Born to late Prananendu Halder, a tailor of Nazirpur in Pirojpur, and schoolteacher Lilabati Halder, PK Halder passed Secondary School Certificate exams from Dighirjan Secondary School in Nazirpur and Higher Secondary Certificate tests from Bagerhat Government College.

He then studied at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, arguably the most attractive destination for students in the country.

After graduation, Halder received an MBA degree from Dhaka University’s Institute of Business Administration, another lucrative destination for students where they face immense competition for admission.

He then worked in a jute firm for some days before joining Industrial and Infrastructure Development Finance Company Limited. He was a deputy managing director when he left the financial institution in 2008.

He became the managing director of Reliance Finance the following year and then joined NRB Global Bank in 2015 as the MD.

The scam involving him has been so intensely discussed in Bangladesh that Reliance Finance changed its name to Aviva Finance while NRB Global Bank goes by the name Global Islami Bank now in a bid to smart from the damage he caused to their image.

PK Halder and his brother Pritish Kumar Halder established a company named Trip Technology in Kolkata in 2018 after opening another firm, P & L Hal Holding Inc, in Canada in 2014.

Meanwhile, he took control of four financial institutions by purchasing large shares and placing his close associates in positions of power.

These institutions lent billions of takas to fake companies opened by Halder and his associates, according to the charges brought by the ACC, which traced at least 20 such firms.

The four financial institutions under Halder’s control were Peoples Leasing and Financial Services, International Leasing and Financial Services, Finance and Investment Limited, and Bangladesh Industrial Finance Company. Top officials of these institutions are among those prosecuted by the ACC.

The national graft busters started receiving complaints against Halder in mid-2019, mostly from the investors or ILFSL.

While the ACC was weighing whether to bring formal charges against Halder, he left Bangladesh, reportedly for Canada, in early 2020. Amid intense criticism for its failure to prevent him from fleeing, the ACC started the first case against him on Jan 25, 2020 on charges of amassing wealth worth Tk 3 billion from unknown sources.

THE FALL OF FIRMS WITH HALDER AT THE HELM

The entities that Halder controlled have been struggling for survival for several years, hit heavily by default loans, a lack of capital and a failure to repay investors.

The Finance and Investment Limited has been bleeding since 2019, according to its audited financial statement submitted to the Dhaka Stock Exchange. Its losses increased to Tk 2.17 billion in 2020 from Tk 1.5 billion in 2019. Company Secretary Zahid Mahmud said they have sought time from the Bangladesh Bank to submit the financial statement of 2021 as the audit has not been done.

Following a petition from the Bangladesh Bank, the High Court decided to dissolve People’s Leasing and Financial Services Ltd or PLFSL, which suffered the biggest financial damage. Later the court formed a new board to revive the scam-hit organisation upon demands from depositors.

The company, which is publicly listed, did not publish any financial data after 2017. According to the DSE, the company made revenues worth Tk 28.8 million as per their audited 2017 financial report.

The company suffered losses of Tk 943.6 million in 2016 and Tk 849.6 million in 2015. Share transaction of the company has also remained halted on the DSE and the Chattogram Stock Exchange.

PLFSL Secretary AKM Abu Zafar said all operations of the company are now suspended.

A former managing director of the International Leasing and Financial Services or ILFS, Rashedul Haque, gave the first confessional statement against PK Halder in court.

According to a DSE filing, the institution conceded a loss of over Tk 28 billion in 2019 and nearly Tk 7 billion in 2020.

After buying shares of Bangladesh Industrial Finance Company Limited, PK Halder made his brother Pritish Kumar Halder chairman of the company and put his relatives on the board of directors.

The central bank dissolved the board in 2016 over a loan scam. The institution has been suffering losses since 2015. According to data published by the firm for the last time, it lost more than Tk 7 billion in 2017.

Company Secretary Md Ahsan Ullah said they prepared audited financial reports for 2018, 2019 and 2020 but could not hold Annual General Meetings due to complications over many issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, and court rulings.

A fact-finding committee, headed by Bangladesh Bank Deputy Governor AKM Sajedur Rahman Khan, was formed to know the condition of the institutions following a court order.

Officials said the committee’s work involving the ILFSL and the Finance and Investment is at the final stages, but it is yet to make significant headway in the work on the PLFSL and the BIFC.

According to the charges brought by the ACC, Tk 25 billion have been embezzled from the ILFSL, Tk 22 billion from the Finance and Investment, and Tk 30 billion from the PLFSL, which put the depositors in misery as they face uncertainty over the recovery of the funds.

[Written in English by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]