Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Fraud: No Solution for the Poor

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Fraud: No Solution for the Poor

Article excerpt

The company slogan was "Shopner Shomadhan", which translates as "Dreams Realised". Now, First Solution goes by the tag line the "Bengali Farepak".

Thousands of people living in the UK transferred at least [pounds sterling]1.7m to their families in Bangladesh and it "went missing". The largest single payment to disappear was sent by a businessman, Dullah Miah. He lives in Stoke-on-Trent and used First Solution to transfer [pounds sterling]70,000 to build a house for his family. It never arrived. Most of the sums are smaller. The real tragedy is that money earned by some of the hardest-working people in the country, destined for some of the poorest people in the world, vanished.

Mohammed Abdul Awal works as a chef in one of Brick Lane's curry houses in the East End of London. He arrived in the UK just 18 months ago and managed to save [pounds sterling]500. This was to be sent to Bangladesh to pay for his sister's wedding in June. First Solution, with a branch next door to the restaurant, was recommended by a friend. The company had 41 branches and more than a hundred agents nationwide.

The transfer fee was cheaper and the money got to its destination quicker than with bigger operators like Western Union. Not this time. Mohammed's sister is still waiting.

The company has been run into the ground. The three directors--Fazal Mahmood, Gulam Robbani Rumi and Shah Hadi--butchered the golden goose. And First Solution was a Golden Goose. Its turnover grew from [pounds sterling]4m in 2004 to [pounds sterling]87m in the last tax year.

Part of the reason for its success was that, after the 11 September 2001 attacks, western governments tried to clamp down on money being transferred informally across borders. So, for example, the Department for International Development gave the Central Bank of Bangladesh a [pounds sterling]7. …

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