Cash beyond limit, all uninsured
In a blatant breach of regulatory law, many Sonali Bank branches keep seven to eight times the money permitted in their vaults and that, too, all uninsured.
The Bangladesh Bank came up with the findings after inspecting eight chest branches (treasury branches that also keep other banks' money) out of Sonali Bank's 66 such branches across the country.
“We found some of the vaults at these branches have nearly Tk 200 crore against a capacity of Tk 25 crore, which is very risky for a bank,” said a BB official involved with the inspection done between January and February.
The inspection also found that some of these branches maintain locker facilities inside the vaults, exposing them to robberies as any locker user can take a chance.
A principal officer of Sonali Bank's Bogra Corporate Branch said branches in upazilas and rural areas were not permitted to reserve over Tk 15 lakh in their vaults. But due to the shortage of vehicles, small branches often cannot send the additional amount to the secured vault at the district branch.
While the state-run Sonali Bank has shown sheer negligence in insuring the money in its vaults, private banks fully comply with the central bank's regulations.
“Each and every vault [of private banks] is covered by insurance,” Anis A Khan, managing director of Mutual Trust Bank, told The Daily Star.
In recent months, Sonali Bank has become the ultimate target of theft and robbery.
On Friday night, miscreants stole Tk 30 lakh from its Adamdighi branch in Bogra. On January 26, the bank witnessed a heist of Tk 16.4 crore from the vault of Rathkhola branch in Kishoreganj. Earlier in 1994, Tk 10 lakh was robbed from one of its Kishoreganj branches.
The bank is also riddled with financial scams, the biggest one being the Tk 2,686 crore swindled out of its Ruposhi Bangla Hotel branch in the capital by Hall-Mark between 2010 and 2012. Five other companies took away Tk 1,000 crore during the same period.In September last year, its corporate branch at Shilpa Bhaban lost $250,000 (Tk 2 crore) to London-based cyber crooks, who allegedly hacked into the bank's security system and transferred the money to an account in Turkey.
Talking to reporters at his office in the capital yesterday, Sonali Bank Managing Director Pradip Kumar Dutta said, “We have taken a series of measures to reduce risks of robbery or heist at our branches.”
As part of the move, 61 inspection teams have been formed at the bank's 61 regional offices to assess the situation, including security issues.
“Ten-inch walls and floors will be built at the branches that are deemed risky by the inspection teams," he said, adding that branches that are on ground floors would be shifted to upper floors.
Contacted, a top BB official said Sonali Bank had been showing "utter negligence" in safeguarding depositors' money.
“The bank doesn't insure the money in its vaults, saying it costs additional money,” the official told this correspondent last night.
He said the central bank recently wrote to the finance ministry, asking it to take immediate action against the Sonali Bank management.
Talking to BBC Bangla, BB Deputy Governor SK Sur Chowdhury yesterday said they had asked all the banks to ensure the safety of depositors' money.
“Things are happening due to banks' failure,” he added.
Meanwhile, police yesterday detained six more people in connection with the heist on Friday when Tk 30.8 lakh was looted from the Adamdighi branch through a 30 feet long tunnel being dug from a nearby furniture shop. The perpetrators used blow torches to break open the locker in the vault.
So far, 10 people have been caught in this connection.
They are furniture shop owner Ashraful Islam, his employee Shaheen Mia, carpenters Nazrul Islam, Shafiqul Islam, Mridul Mia, Abdul Wahed, welder Abdul Latif, two Ansar members in charge of the bank's security Purna Dev Sarkar and Milon Mia and former security guard Ruhul Amin.
Amin quit his job on February 28 citing personal reasons, said Shamsuddin Sharif, manager of the branch.
Police were yet to recover the money.
Sonali Bank and Bangladesh Bank have formed two committees to probe the heist.
News:The Daily Star/10-Mar-2014