No remedy in sight for victims
The wait for tens of thousands of customers and merchants who are victims of scams perpetrated by 10 e-commerce firms is lingering on as there are no strong efforts on the part of the government to realise the money and compensate them.
The commerce ministry has said it has little to do as per laws as some customers have already filed cases against digital commerce firms such as Evaly and E-orange, and the court will now decide how to recover the funds.
However, legal experts say the ministry should form a board or appoint administrators to run the companies and work to repay the money to customers and vendors.
Figures quoted by law-enforcement agencies, customers and merchants indicate that nearly Tk 3,000 crore of payments and dues are stuck with the e-commerce platforms, namely Evaly, E-orange, Qcoom, Dhamaka Shopping, and Dalalplus.
The commerce ministry has formed three committees, published standard operating procedures and held several inter-ministerial meetings, and all of the attempts are aimed at thwarting future cons in the e-commerce industry.
But no visible initiative has been taken to recoup the money from the errant e-commerce firms and refund customers who had been lured by deep discounts on expensive items such as mobile phones, television sets, motorbikes, and cars.
"We do not have options to recover the money from the companies as the ministry can't go beyond the law," said AHM Shafiquzzaman, additional secretary to the commerce ministry.
"The ministry is working to safeguard the interests of the consumers, e-commerce companies and merchants so that they are not cheated."
The new committee will assign various government agencies like the National Board of Revenue and Bangladesh Bank to play their parts.
For instance, Bangladesh Bank may be asked to find out ways to recoup the money, said Shafiquzzaman, also the new chief of the Digital Commerce Cell under the ministry.
In the absence of refunds or delivery of the products, the misery of the consumers and merchants is only lingering.
Convinced by attractive advertisements, Rana Khan and his four friends, who all live in the Motijheel area, ordered 17 bikes worth Tk 39.40 lakh from E-orange at a 50 per cent discount. Their plan was to resell them at higher prices.
"However, we did not get delivery of the bikes," the 30-year-old said.
Instead, 30 people were injured when police dispersed them from a protest rally at the Jatiya Press Club and Matshya Bhaban areas a few days ago, he said on Thursday.
"We want the government to take measures so that the companies pay back our money."
Ahsanul Karim, a lawyer of the Supreme Court, says the commerce ministry should have appointed administrators to the troubled e-commerce companies a lot earlier so that the owners could not launder the money.
"An immediate action was needed to save both companies and protect the interests of consumers and merchants. It is too late to recover the money from the companies."
The formation of multiple committees might not be enough to protect the interests of consumers.
After the scams related to Destiny, Jubok and Unipay2u, the government had also constituted several committees to recoup funds, compensate victims and stop a recurrence of fraudulent activities. But the scams did not stop.
"So, the commerce ministry should form several committees and bodies with more focus on the recovery of money and refunds to affected consumers and merchants," Karim said.
Sayeeda Anzu, a professor of the law department at Rajshahi University, says there are still ways to recover the money from the rogue e-commerce companies.
She suggested tracking the transactions made by consumers and merchants to the e-commerce companies.
"After tracking the transfers, the ministry can claim the money from them and compensate the consumers and merchants.
"If an e-commerce firm can't return the money, a board can be formed to sell its assets to pay its debts," Prof Anzu said, adding that the commerce ministry should handle the issue.