Tk2,500crore. That is the amount that Faruque Ahmed Kajol, aka Hundi Kajol, is said to have scammed people out of between 1993 to 2000.
One of the largest and the first scam of its kind took place in a quiet village in Jhenidah. Although Kajol has since been sentenced and has absconded, the trail of destruction that he left behind continues to haunt the entire locality.
But how did Hundi Kajol even manage to sway people? And was he working alone?
"Who doesn't know Hundi Kajol? They may not like talking about him, but many of them made money from him. And many of them lost everything," Rintu, a tea-seller in Jhenidah'sKotchandpur, says.
Twenty years since one of the country's biggest scams took place, the anger at the man who manufactured it – Hundi Kajol – remains palpable. Perhaps anger is not the right word. Fury, may be more appropriate.
How much did Rintu lose? "I don't want to say the amount. Let's say that if it was Tk5 lakh, that is still a lot of money for me."
Rintu is under no illusions that he is going to get his money back. It's lost to time.
Nazrul Islam, a retired teacher who went on to become the general secretary of the Lagnikarider Taka Uddhar Sangram Parishad, a committee formed to retrieve the swindled money, is another indirect victim of Kajol's Ponzi scheme.
"I first heard of the scam when a local who proudly went by the name of Boltu Cheat once mentioned to me about investing the money we had in our local teacher's samity. He said he could double it in a short time," Nazrul recalls.
Nazrul, however, did not want to invest and forgot the conversation after a while. A few weeks later he began hearing of people putting money into the scheme.
"It wasn't just us locals. People were coming from Jashore, Khulna, Dhaka and other places to buy into this craze."
Asked if he lost money, Nazrul hesitates before answering.
"My son took Tk80,000 from my wife and I. That's the money we lost," he says.
"Look, no one could tell where Kajol's money was coming from. Was he into smuggling, was he selling the mythical Pillar? We did not know. People just knew he could make you money and people wanted the money.
"Many gave up all their land and their jobs to make a quick buck. The situation was dire. So, we formed a committee to ensure the perpetrators were caught and we got our money back.
"And we caught them too. Our mistake was letting them go. We should have dealt with them then and there," he concludes.
When Kajol was finally brought before a court in 2001, he was sentenced to three years in prison and was fined Tk10,000. The verdict did not make any of the victims happy.
Through a network of agents who allegedly worked on his behalf, Kajol and his associates are said to have amassed great wealth. It was this very network which would eventually be his downfall, but not before their greed lay waste to thousands of lives.
Other actors involved in the deception, including a number of banks according to court documents, also managed to escape the net of justice.
Till today, Kajol's name strikes a chord, albeit a negative name, with the people of his locality.
But who was this Hundi Kajol? How did he do what he did? Where did it all begin? And where did it end? Those questions remain very difficult to answer.
The man and the myth
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when Kajol's foray into scamming people began.
According to locals, Kajol was an unassuming man who ran a local store. His family had come from India and settled in their ancestral home in Kotchandpur'sSolaimanpur village.
Kajol had a shop at the local library where he sold stationery. Almost everyone remembers him, some even fondly from his days as a linesman during inter-school football competitions.
"Kajol had a way of speaking that really captured people's attention. He was charming," recalls Abdul Rahman Mannan, a local. "He would be the linesman during our football matches. At the time he had hair styled after the Brazilian football legend Zico, long and curly. We all really liked him as an elder brother," he said.
According to locals, during the fag end of the 80s, while running his shop, Kajol happened upon another business opportunity. He noticed that farmers would sell their sugar cane to the local government agency. Instead of being paid immediately, they would be given a slip stating the amount that was owed to them. After 10-15 days, they would receive their payments.
Many of the farmers, however, wanted the money immediately. Kajol, who had a way with words, convinced them to sell the slips to him at lower cost. For instance, if a farmer was owed Tk3,000, Kajol would buy the slip for Tk2,700-2,800. When the time came to submit the slip, he would say and make a neat, little profit.
On the surface, it seemed like a measly amount of profit, but Kajol knew that the more slips he bought, the more money he could make.
But for that, he would need more capital and so he began to go to his people.
Kajol would collect money from locals and invest in this business. He offered attractive returns, going as high as Tk10,000 in return for Tk1 lakh.
The prospect of easy money and seeing others actually making money with Kajol lured in people by the droves.
Although the money was pouring in at this time, Kajol's capacity was limited. Locals in the know say this is when Kajol began to resort to creating a Ponzi scheme, with him at the top of the pyramid.
He would take money from one person and give it to another. This way, he could keep his clients appeased. Slight delays did not seem to bother people, who were apparently enamoured with Kajol and the prospects that he promised.
More and more people came in and Kajol decided to hire a bunch of agents to work on his behalf. The agents would go around recruiting more people into the scheme.
There was, however, no paper trail of how much the agents were collecting or giving away. Some people began using Hundi Kajol as the brand of their own Ponzi scheme.
Millions exchanged hands without the investors ever even getting to meet Kajol, such was his fame.
Sometimes Kajol's name wasn't even directly mentioned, but people came to agents just by simple association, so that they may know Kajol.
A famous agent, a woman who was rumoured to have built a house of gold from the money she embezzled, went by the name of Ratna. She offered an attractive rate of return: Tk14,000 for Tk1 lakh.
There were also far-spread whispers that she was Hundi Kajol's secret daughter and hence was given attractive rates which she offered to the people. That she could just be Kajol's daughter is what brought people to her.
People flocked to her as well.
That Ratna is not Kajol's daughter is something people came to know much later on. Some believe her reputation stemmed from having worked in Kajol's house for a number of years.
And the fact was that Kajol was still making some people a lot of money.
"Of the big houses you see in this village, 90% of them were made using Kajol's money," Khairuzzaman, a local trader, said.
It is said that the children of Kajol's agents all had the latest motorcycles and would eat breakfast at fancy restaurants in Jashore.
It was raining money in Jhenidah. All one had to do was know how to catch the droplets.
The great unravelling
Kajol had built himself a nice house of cards. But as such houses go, it was all in for a spectacular collapse.
As time passed, Kajol took more money than he could pay back. His investors began to get impatient and reports began circulating of Kajol's misdeeds.
When the media began to sniff around, Kajol came up with a bold plan. He announced a press conference after which he even gave some journalists a tour of his many different businesses.
All this was done to send the message that Hundi Kajol was solvent and the money would be coming soon. It, of course, never did.
But loose-ends were yet to be tied.
According to various media reports, it all came to a head in early 2000, when that infamous agent, Ratna, was caught by locals while trying to flee with bags filled with Tk12 crore.
This spread doubt among investors that Kajol was not as liquid as he made it seem.
Kajol was not in the area at the time. He returned on the 18th of the same month. The next month, a Kotchandpur local filed a case against him, naming over 180 people, including a leader of the Awami League, along with accusing a nexus of banks who helped with the massive transactions.
As soon as Kajol heard the news, he invited some of his investors for a meeting in the first week of May, promising them their money back. The meeting happened, but the money never came.
Following the failed meeting, incensed investors vandalised the homes of Kajol and his agents. They also damaged some other business properties.
To bring the situation under control, Kajol was arrested three days later. He was sent to jail, before managing to secure jail.
The investigation for the trial began later on. Around 15-20 cases were filed against Kajol. After securing bail on 8 March 2007, he managed to flee the country.
Moin Uddin, officer-in-charge of Kotchandpur, said no cases are pending with the Kotchandpur police station. "As far as we know, he is absconding in India but we do not exactly know where he is living."
Asked whether he had ever come to Bangladesh, the officer said he did not as there was still an arrest warrant against him.
On the issue of extradition, the officer said he was not aware.
Some have said Kajol now lives in Chattogram, while others said he was in India.
Kajol had disappeared into thin air, and along with him went the life-savings of hundreds of people.
On the money trail
Kajol's home is still there where it was in Solaimanpur. Ask anyone for directions and they will give it to you. A look of curiosity and a grimace will come before the directions.
After twists and turns, you will reach Kajol's abode, the facade being bare of any paint. The two-storey structure is made of unpainted bricks. The windows on the top-storey neither have glass nor any panes.
Protruding rods on the roof suggest that a third-storey was being made, before the plans were shelved.
It is not exactly a picture of lavish living.
The first storey is rented out. A narrow lane lies right next to the building structure.
Take that and you can see the building stretches for a while, the size of an estimated three 900sqf homes. At the end of the narrow lane is a palatial metal gate. White painted tiles replace the mundane red bricks at this point. This is what Kajol's house actually looks like, away from the peering eyes.
Ask his next-door neighbour about him and she will tell you the same tale, one now as old as time.
She did not give him any money, but her son gave him a portion of their land. She won't say exactly how much the land amounted to.
She is shy speaking about the matter, but also without too much concern. The money's gone and she chalks it off as a bad investment.
She says that Kajol's family rarely leaves the house. They live upstairs. It is time to meet them.
When this correspondent knocked on Kajol's door, it was opened by his daughter, Akhi Ahmed Rothi. She was only around nine-years-old when her father was arrested.
The entire ordeal had taken a toll on the family.
She invited the correspondent into their house, offering a chair in a spacious living room, boasting once-expensive furniture sets. Presently, those seemed old and discoloured.
The now 30-year-old Akhi was at first surprised, but informed that no one had approached them before to get their side of the story.
"My father is now hiding because he cannot repay the money. If he does not pay back the money, they will not spare him," Akhi said.
On the upkeep of the house, she said her two brothers were working in Dhaka: one at a garment factory and the other in an NGO in Dhaka.
Akhi was a homemaker, married to a man in Jashore.
They had rented out the ground floor of their building for Tk1,600, the income further supplemented from money they made by harvesting crops from a parcel of land.
"My father is originally Indian. The family came to Bangladesh in 1947-48. Many of the people still call them refugees," she said.
"When I was young, I could not understand why my father did not come home. Now, I understand. The entire family is still affected by everything. My brothers do not leave home in an ordinary way. They don't even go to say their prayers in the Eidgah. People look at us differently," she said.
"My father is a very good man. People do not give all their money to someone they do not trust. My father and uncles, as well as my grandfather, had good reputations in the area and they did not have any bad records."
Akhi recalled how her grandfather would give land to build homes, schools, graveyards and crematorium grounds.
"My father started the business, but he did not keep records. Another problem was there were many who worked as agents, but did not deposit the money to my father," she said.
Akhi understands some of the blame, but doesn't think it's completely fair.
"There are many people in the area who were once very poor but now have become the aristocrats of the area. Many people have benefitted from the incident."
"They don't want my father to come back at any cost. They even bribe people so that he doesn't return," she alleged.
Akhi said her father did not have the capacity to pay back all the money owed.
Hundi Kajol, meanwhile, refused to comment on the matter.
According to his daughter, he is living alone in a rented house in Kolkata, riddled by old-age complications.
"I have not seen him in four years," Akhi said.
"My father does not do anything; He is an age-old man and lives alone. No one is there to take care of him."
She also said that her father had no desire to come back to Bangladesh.
"As a daughter, I am happy that my father is alive. I want him to be well, wherever he is."
Kajol's myth, whether he went from living long enough as a hero to becoming a villain or whether history had whitewashed it, really depends on who you ask.
Years later, while anger still haunts Kotchandpur, the victims are also uneasy with their embarrassment.
Did their embarrassment stem from them feeling foolish? Tea-seller Rintu's friend, who refused to be named, put the answer in the best way.
"No one will tell you exactly how much they spent. It's not because they are ashamed of being made to be fools. Their investment speaks of their greed. And no one wants to admit that they are greedy."