US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter D Haas on December 10 cancelled his presence as the chief guest at the inauguration ceremony of a joint venture between controversial businessman Mohammad Saiful Alam Masud Chowdhury’s S Alam Group and General Motors later this week in Dhaka.
Knowledgeable sources said that Haas’ staff at the US embassy conveyed the envoy’s regret even as the S Alam Group and General Motors had made week-long preparations for the inaugural event at a Dhaka five-star hotel.
This happened on a day when Saiful Alam met Bangladesh Bank Governor Abdur Rouf Talukdar for two hours (between 2-4 pm BST) to discuss the modalities of repaying at least $1 billion of his $8 billion loan that he had availed over the past few years.
In this context, Bangladesh Bank sources said that Saiful Alam recently repaid Tk 2,200 crore by way of “LC money adjustments”.
One of Bangladesh’s top businessmen and often described as a powerful oligarch with considerable influence in the Prime Minister’s Office, Saiful Alam, it is said, was driven to the Bangladesh central bank not in his own car but in the vehicle of his Mohammad Akizuddin, Deputy Managing Director at the S Alam Group and one-time valet. Akizuddin is said to be a former Islami Chhatra Shibir cadre.
Haas’ decision to not be part of the S Alam Group-General Motors inaugural event is said to be on the basis of reports related to Saiful Alam’s “unscrupulous” business dealings, including allegations of siphoning off about Tk 120,000 crore from several Bangladesh banks to unknown accounts abroad.
Saiful Alam, who has been accused by one his former employees, P K Halder, of paying a Tk 1,500 crore kickback to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s US-based son Sajeeb Wazed Joy in 2014, has been behind the “forcible” takeover of the once profitable Islamic Bank and the Social Islami Bank Ltd.
Halder, who was arrested in India in May 2022, revealed all this more to his Enforcement Directorate (ED) sleuths the same month.
Both the Islamic Bank and the Social Islami Bank were “taken over” with generous help from Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the then Bangladesh Bank Governor Fazle Kabor who was at the helm between March 2016 and July 2022.
While Saiful Alam recently returned to Dhaka following a two-week long visit to Delhi where he met Indian security officials, there are reports that he had moved some of his businesses to Dubai after Halder’s revelations to the ED.
However, months before the elections process got underway in Bangladesh, Saiful Alam had begun exploring globally well-known tax free havens, including Cyprus and the Cayman Islands, to move his financial wealth.
In May, Saiful Alam’s move to “invest” $2 billion in Malta was rejected by the authorities in the island nation based on “due diligence” probes.
What is baffling is that even though Saiful Alam is named in the ED document, the Indian investigating agency has taken no step to question or examine him during his visits to Delhi in August, September and November 2023.
Saiful Alam, said to be among Bangladesh’s top oligarchs, was in Delhi for about two weeks when he met some Indian security officials. Both Bangladeshi and Indian sources confirmed his visit to the Indian capital. This was preceded by the visit to Delhi of a senior executive of a TV news channel owned by Saiful Alam and the editor-proprietor of a Bengali daily.