B'desh watchdog absolves minister from graft charges

Construction project

Bangladesh's anti-corruption watchdog has absolved a Minister of graft allegations brought by the World Bank over a $2.3 billion construction project, saying it found no evidence of malpractice in appointment of the contractor for the world body funded work.

"The graft allegation (by WB) has not been proved, based on the documentary and verbal evidence we (ACC) have" against former Communication Minister Syed Abul Hossain, said Chairman of the Bangladesh's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Ghulam Rahman on Thursday.

"The ACC does not think any corruption was committed in pre-qualification bidding process" of the main construction work of the Padma Bridge project, which was carried out when Hossain was in charge of the ministry.

Under a cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, however, changed Hossain's portfolio and made him the minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) recently.

The ACC carried out the inquiry by dividing the allegation into two -- allegation of corruption over the construction of the main bridge and allegation of corruption in the appointment of the supervising consultant.

The commission, however, disclosed the finding of its inquiry into the first issue while ACC chief said investigations into the second allegation was still underway.

The ACC announcement came a week after Hasina warned her government would not accept World Bank funds for the mega project unless it could prove the allegation it raised while the global lending agency said it awaited a Canadian police investigation report on graft allegations.

Bangladesh earlier short-listed five firms for appointment as consultants including Canadian SNC-Lavalin Group Inc but the World Bank smelled corruption in the process and instead of approving the list referred the mater to Canadian authorities to investigate how the Canadian company got itself short listed.

The ACC chief said the graft watchdog sent the synopsis of its inquiry report to the Integrity Vice- Presidency (INT), a WB component responsible for investigation of internal and external allegations of misconduct and fraud and to the government.

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