An employee of Bangladesh's biggest state-owned gas company who earned a mere $100 a month used his position to pocket a colossal $145 million in bribes over 12 years, an official said Tuesday.
Authorities here described the deception as one of the country's biggest corruption scandals, with countless workers using the company to siphon millions out of public coffers.
"It is a theft of unimaginable scale," said the head of the government's anti-corruption body, Colonel Hasan.
He identified the culprit as Abdul Kader Mollah, a former sales assistant with the Titas Gas Distribution Company who was paid a mere $100 a month but who made illicit cash by undercharging thousands of factories.
"As a low level employee, he was to supervise gas distribution in one of the country's biggest industrial areas. And he made the money there," Hasan said of Mollah, who is now 46.
"During his 12 year career his monthly salary was around $100. But he became a multi-millionaire," the official said, adding the gas worker was "feared by everyone" and enjoyed union and political connections.
Mollah's fortune -- now estimated by authorities at over $300 million -- was revealed after the military-backed government launched an investigation into the company last year as part of a nationwide anti-graft drive.
But Mollah, who is still under investigation and has not yet been arrested, hit back at the allegations by taking out a quarter-page advertisement Tuesday in at least 11 top newspapers.
He insisted he was only worth $66 million, and that he made the money through hard work -- including setting up textile plants after leaving the gas business in 1997.
Last week authorities said at least 80 per cent of Titas' 2,800 workers had made millions of dollars by under-charging in exchange for bribes, although 127 workers have so far agreed to hand back case to the state.
Titas is the country's largest state-owned gas distributor with an 80 per cent market share in Bangladesh, ranked as one of the poorest and most corrupt nations on earth.
Last year the company made a net profit of $37 million on sales of $557 million.
Investigators, however, said they were "astonished" by the scale of internal profiteering in a country where 40 per cent of the 144 million population live with less than a dollar.
"Almost everyone in the company is a millionaire. They made millions by depriving the country's millions of poor people," Hasan said.
The Ittefaq newspaper meanwhile ran a front page story on three more multi-millionaire gas workers -- including a former receptionist who now allegedly owns an apartment complex and plots of land in posh Dhaka districts.
Bangladesh's government, which came to power in January 2007 following months of political instability, has detained more than 150 politicians, including former ministers accused of accepting bribes for official duties.
In October it widened the drive to state-owned companies. (AFP)
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