‘Abul Hasan recommended, not me’

Former Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain has admitted of receiving recommendation from former State Minister for Foreign Affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury to appoint Canadian firm SNC Lavalin as Padma bridge project consultant.
But he claimed that he did not put any pressure on the committee formed to pick the consultancy firm.
Hossain, however, on Monday again protested his innocence after facing Anti Corruption Commission’s interrogation for a second time over suspected graft in the project.
He also claimed to have had no talks alone with any SNC Lavalin official.
The second phase of ACC questioning of Hossain, who was removed from the Cabinet after graft allegations were raised, coincided with the visit of the external panel of the World Bank which is here to oversee ACC’s ongoing probe.
The anti-graft watchdog is probing the allegations of graft the World Bank had made in appointing consultant for the project. Besides Hossain, ACC also questioned Abul Hasan, who was the junior minister in Sheikh Hasina’s Cabinet in 1996, over the allegations earlier on Monday.
However, after questioning of the duo ended on Monday, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman told reporters, “The investigation report will be finalised within next couple of days. The next course of action will be taken based on that.”
Even though he had been claiming to have found no evidence of corruption in the project, Rahman recently said that they found some evidence suggesting a ‘plot for exchanging bribe’.
The World Bank had suspended its $1.2 billion loan in September last year after allegations of bribery exchange were raised against two officials of the Canadian construction firm short-listed as the project’s construction supervision consultant.
The global lender had cancelled its funding in June this year, but agreed to a conditional return in September this year at the request of the Bangladesh government.
The ACC began investigating the graft allegations after the Bank had asked for it. ACC will start preparation to file lawsuits if it finds evidence in its investigation.
Meanwhile, Syed Abul Hossain was swarmed by reporters as he emerged from the ACC headquarters after questioning in the afternoon.
He told them, “I, Syed Abul Hossain, the former Communication Minister, am not involved in any murky affair.”
He also submitted his written statement at the ACC. It said that Abul Hasan Chowdhury, son of Bangladesh’s second President Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, had recommended appointment of SNC Lavalin as the consulting firm.
“He (Chowdhury) had come to me with the SNC Lavalin (representatives). He requested me that SNC Lavalin’s tender proposal is rightly evaluated.”
Hossain in his statement said, “I assured them saying that the evaluation committee headed by Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury is really impartial and the committee members are renowned internationally. This committee can be trusted.”
He wrote that it was unlikely that Abul Hasan Chowdhury would receive any illegal facilities by ‘using his name’.
Hossain also told reporters, “No one in the world can testify against me that I made any unethical demand… that I asked that somebody be graded higher or lower (for the evaluation).”
Meanwhile, Abul Hasan Chowdhury told reporters that he was not involved in any kind of corruption.
“I did not do anything illegal. I was never involved in any corruption.”
About the diary of SNC Lavalin official Romesh Shah, Syed Abul Hossain said he did not ever speak with Romesh Shah or ‘Ismail’ or any official of the firm directly and alone.
“If Romesh Shah has written anything in his diary, that is his personal matter.”
After the graft allegations on the project were raised, the project’s Integrity Advisor Mashiur Rahman and former Bridges Division Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan were sent on leave.
The government had made the moves to fulfil the World Bank’s condition to confirm pledged funding for the project.
However, Abul Hossain on Monday claimed that he had never unnecessarily intervened in the Padma bridge project.
Asked about his questioning at the commission, Hossain said, “We talked about a lot of issues. I made some of the statements in writing.”
“I tried to make them understand. I have answered all the questions.”
The former Communications Minister said he had come to ACC for ‘justice and quoted Greek philosopher Plato.
“Plato said the form of justice is one in everywhere in the world and injustice has hundreds of forms. I have come to ACC for justice. I will come as many times I’m needed.”

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