Dhamaka vendors fight for millions as leaders skip city

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Dhamaka vendors fight for millions as leaders skip city

Jisan Al Jubair:

Dhamaka Shopping, once a beacon of Bangladesh’s burgeoning e-commerce scene, now teeters on the precipice of financial ruin, leaving a trail of unpaid vendors and broken promises in its wake. Court orders, repayment agreements, and land-for-debt deals have proven ephemeral, with company leaders conveniently vanishing overseas as the situation spirals.

A total of 130 Dhamaka vendors, who submitted a writ petition to the High Court, remain unpaid, collectively owed a staggering Tk 70 crore (US$7.2 million). “It’s been two and half years of empty promises,” laments Mahmudur Rahman, a duped Dhamaka merchant. “He [Chishti] vanishes, leaving us to face the music,” he adds, referring to the mounting pressure from creditors due to unpaid debts incurred while trusting Dhamaka. 

Initial court victories seemed to pave the way for full repayment, but progress has stalled. A mere Tk 2 crore has trickled in, leaving vendors drowning in debts and facing mounting pressure from creditors.

As part of the repayment plan, Dhamaka promised to transfer land worth approximately Tk 3 crore to the vendors. Yet, months after the agreement, the deed remains unregistered, there is no specific schedule for the rest of the payment, casting doubt on the company’s commitment. Similarly, a promised Tk 10 crore payment by January 2024 hangs in the balance, shrouded in uncertainty. 

Complicating matters further, Dhamaka Managing Director Jasim Uddin Chishti has conveniently absconded to the US, leaving a leadership vacuum. “His representative says he will pay, but nothing happens,” Rahman adds, highlighting the frustration and lack of communication plaguing the vendors.

Marching back to the court

Dhamaka’s merchant Mahmud also said, “While Dhamaka might be slipping into the shadows, our resolve to fight for what’s right shines brighter than ever. We’re marching back to court, writ case in hand, and won’t rest until justice prevails.”

However, Dhamaka representative Advocate Raju Ahmed Rajib counters, “The payment is being made, albeit at a slow pace, but we are trying to handover the land and pay Tk 10 crore this month (January, 2024).” This conflicting information casts a further shadow of uncertainty over the situation.

Facing repeated questioning about the promised land registration at the end of December, 2023  and payment of Tk 10 crore as a partial payment in January, 2024, the Dhamaka representative chose to disappear like the company’s leadership, offering no assurance or explanation.

Dhamaka’s troubles extend beyond broken promises. The company reportedly lacked proper licenses and operated without an official business account, raising red flags about financial transparency. Transactions were routed through a sister company, further muddying the waters. Previous investigations into Dhamaka unearthed a staggering Tk 750 crore in transactions, yet company accounts showed only a pittance.

Uncertain future and lingering questions

Will Dhamaka ever honor its financial obligations to the vendors? What legal repercussions await the company and its absconding leaders? Can the victims recover their losses and rebuild trust in the e-commerce sector?

Al Mamun, the investigating officer of the case, said, “While the money laundering investigation will shed light on Dhamaka Shopping’s financial practices, separate efforts are needed to ensure customer refunds, and we can advise affected individuals on potential routes forward.”

The Dhamaka saga serves as a cautionary tale for Bangladesh’s booming e-commerce landscape. It exposes the dark underbelly of potential predatory practices and financial mismanagement.

As authorities investigate and vendors seek justice, one thing remains clear: broken promises and disappearing acts have left a trail of financial ruin and damaged trust. The question hanging in the air is whether Dhamaka will ever rise from the ashes or disappear like the millions it allegedly owes.

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