When mystery still shrouds the import of two lakh tonnes of "rotten and uneatable" wheat from Brazil, high officials in the ministry concerned and law enforcing agencies say Food Minister Qamrul Islam and Food Secretary Mushfeqa Ikfat have allegedly been involved in the 'questionable' purchase.
The quality of the Brazilian wheat was 'lower than any other wheat imported by Bangladesh,' they said. The country usually imports wheat from Australia and few other countries. 'But this time the Food Minister in collusion with the Food Secretary mysteriously went to buy wheat from Brazil, without confirming quality and bypassing tests," one law enforcing official said.
The suppliers failed to provide the crop year certificate and the Certificate of Standard and Quality of Wheat, issued either by Brazil's agriculture ministry or chamber of commerce, a high official in the Food Ministry told the Daily Observer.
Following a media scramble over the purchase and distribution of substandard wheat, the Food Ministry collected samples of Brazilian wheat from districts -- where large quantity of the wheat was meant for feeding the police -- and tested the grain again. "In the test report, the wheat was not found rotten or unfit for human consumption," the ministry said.
Some Food Ministry officials told the Daily Observer on Saturday that Food Minister Qamrul Islam and Food Secretary Mushfeqa Ikfat 'managed' this report using their authority.
The police force has already complained about poor quality of the Brazilian wheat, along with some dealers and flour mill operators in different parts of country. Now extra wheat is being purchased to feed the forces at Tk 10 more per kg than the current market rate, causing the government a loss of about Tk 1 billion, concerned sources said.
Md Sarwar Khan, former DG of the Food Department, told The Daily Observer on Saturday that the Food Minister and Food Secretary 'played their hands in the purchase of wheat to skirt corruption in the deals." "We received this supply (of wheat from Brazil) after quality was confirmed in test report from DG Food and RC food,' he added.
Food Minister Qamrul Islam and Food Secretary Mushfeqa Ikfat both told the Daily Observer that they were not involved in any corruption. The Food Ministry has claimed that no rotten or inconsumable wheat was found in test on imports from Brazil.
Officials said there was no need for anymore wheat in the country, but the minister and secretary pushed for purchasing 2 lakh tonnes of the grain, and that too at exorbitant costs. Those people allegedly took 'bribe' to release the rotten wheat supply.
The Food Ministry destroyed all purchase documents and was trying to prepare new documents, something the officials say forced a decision to make the former Food DG Sarwar Khan an OSD.
The 2 lakh tonnes of substandard wheat were supplied by two contractors -- Glencore Grain BV, Netherlands, and Singapore-based Olam International. Glencore supplied 1.5 lakh tonnes and Olam 50,000 tonnes to the Directorate General of Food. It cost around $46 million or Tk 355 crore, and 90 percent of the payment has been made, said food ministry officials.
Some ministry officials said the quality of the wheat, supplied mainly by Glencore, was not found good enough after tests. The Glencore local agent is Impex Consultants.
Shahid H Jahangir, Managing Director, Impex Consultants has close ties with Food Minister Qamrul Islam, it is alleged.
"You can get 80 marks or 33 marks. Both are pass marks. And the wheat imported from Brazil has just passed the quality parameter specified in the tender requirement," said a senior official of the food ministry seeking anonymity.
According to officials, Bangladesh consumes around 40 lakh tonnes of wheat annually, and nearly three-fourths of the quantity is imported. Till mid-June, the private sector has imported 34.23 lakh tonnes and the government 3 lakh tonnes, show records.