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UK probe body finds no corruption in Bangladesh’s NID Project

News Desk | banglanews24.com
Update: 2022-05-15 10:49:37
UK probe body finds no corruption in Bangladesh’s NID Project

The National Crime Agency (NCA) of the United Kingdom has found no corruption in the National Identity (NID) Card project of Bangladesh after thorough investigation for long six years.

It came up with the disclosure wrapping up its probe into the corruption allegation brought by the World Bank. After six years of investigation, which included review of millions of paper-based and electronic documents, e-mails, communicators’ messages and other investigative sources, the UK agency has finally decided to issue a No Further Action (NFA) and close the case as it has not found any proof of corruption in the project.

TigerIT Bangladesh Ltd, a Bangladeshi software company, created a national biometric database in 2007 for 80 million citizens of Bangladesh for the purpose of using it in the following elections.

This was done under the supervision of Bangladesh Army and using this database, the first NID cards were issued for Bangladeshi citizens in 2008.

This was a historic project at a time when the nation was at disequilibrium and was waiting to usher in a new era of governance. It was also highly praised by the partners of the projects -- DFID, UNDP and EU.

After the great success of the NID Project in 2008, the World Bank in 2011 offered Bangladesh a loan to finance the replacement of paper-based NID cards with the smart ones.

Subsequently, the Election Commission invited an international tender in 2014. All the specifications as well as tender results were reviewed and approved by the WB’s division concerned in Washington following which the tender was awarded to a French company called Oberthur Technologies.

Besides, while evaluating the project, the global lender was highly satisfied with its progress and technical soundness. Quoting the lowest price, this foreign company beat the other contenders and won the tender in January 2015.

Oberthur Technologies selec ted TigerIT as its subcontractor for dedicated software supply while another local IT company called CSL served as its local agent.

The second lowest bidder was a company called Saffran Morpho which, it is to be noted, later merged with Oberthur Technologies to be known as IDEMIA.Oberthur’s alliance with TigerIT was the key factor in their winning the bid as TigerIT’s participation helped the new NID system to be designed using the existing infrastructure, helping significantly economise and the country make considerable financial savings on that account.

The national smart ID card itself is, till date, the cheapest-ever polycarbonate smart ID card in the world. To corroborate this claim, the following comparisons can suffice: one smart ID card in Bangladesh was offered for approximately US$1.03 (with personalisation before customs duties, VAT and other taxes) while Pakistan pays $1.69 per unit, Peru $1.52, Guatemala $1.60 and Chad spends $1.91 for such polycarbonate smart ID card -- all these without personalisation which, as a rule of thumb, is at least $0.50 per unit.

As evidenced above, Bangladesh provided national smart cards at a cost less than 70 percent in terms of global expenditure. The EC had been able to order 100 million units (as per the number of adult citizens of Bangladesh at that time) exceeding the estimated target of 80 million with the allocated budget.

Shortly after winning the project and utilising TigerIT’s knowledge on the Bangladesh NID system, Oberthur (now known as IDEMIA after the merger with Saffran Morpho) decided to strategically minimise the role of the subcontractor (TigerIT) and eventually, dropped it entirely from the project to eradicate and destroy a competitor from the global market and maximise its own profit.

To achieve this, as a first step, all the payments due to TigerIT (for already delivered components) were withheld. After making several futile calls to seek the dues, TigerIT moved the Bangladesh High Court seeking justice.

Being unsuccessful in Bangladesh, Oberthur took it to a UK court, requesting it to issue an immediate injunction that would compel TigerIT to discontinue the case in Bangladesh.

TigerIT won the case in the UK in 2019, but was removed from the project by IDEMIA.

TigerIT was not the only Bangladeshi company which suffered owing to the manipulation of IDEMIA. After kicking out TigerIT, IDEMIA also removed its local agent CSL from the project by its country director Brig Gen (retd) Saifur Rahman who is the brother of then member of executive committee of BNP Mohammad Shokrana. Shokrana was also known to have very close ties with Tarique Rahman. The consequences of employing opposition leaders in the project, which involves national security, were evident in what happened next. Parallel to the disputes with its subcontractor and local partner, IDEMIA and the project became subjects of a World Bank investigation, tipped off by IDEMIA itself.

Shortly after the tender was awarded, Morpho had lodged a complaint with BEC against Oberthur before the merger of the two companies, bringing two contradictory allegations: one about the price offered by Oberthur being ‘unreasonably low’ and the other requesting an inquiry into potential corruption in the project.

As a result, the World Bank audited the project and during the audit, Oberthur stated that it made ‘improper payments to a subcontractor (…) to obtain and modify bid specifications to narrow the competition and secure the award of the contract.

At the same time, IDEMIA falsely informed the World Bank that TigerIT was helping it ‘narrow the competition.’ Another allegation was related to the rise in the number of cards from 80 million to 100 million.The amount of corruption money alleged by World Bank was much more than the profit of the extra 20 million cards- further affirmed by the NCA, thus proving the allegation baseless.

After not being able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any corruption charge in the project, the World Bank had transferred the case to the NCA, equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the US, for further investigation.

At the same time, the World Bank barred TigerIT for 10 years and six months from participating in any project funded by it at both national and global levels based solely on Oberthur’s own statements without waiting for the outcome of the UK investigation. Finally, the UK agency has found no evidence of corruption in the project.

This has shaken TigerIT as an emerging ID solution provider severely.By that time, they had won several international projects in different countries and established itself as a strong competitor among global players. As such, the valuation of Morpho, Oberthur and other major ID solution providers decreased significantly due to the lower price offered by TigerIT. As a result, several mergers and acquisitions of ID solution providers took place at that time.

A reliable source said in or after 2020, IDEMIA secretly settled with TigerIT and CSL by paying them multimillion dollars as compensation for eliminating them from the project.

BDST: 1050 HRS, MAY 15, 2022
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