World Bank cancels Bangladesh bridge loan over corruption

People cross river in Dhaka. Photo: June 2012 Hundreds of thousands of people use boats to commute from one part of Bangladesh to another

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The World Bank has pulled out of a project to build Bangladesh's largest bridge, citing corruption concerns.

It is cancelling a $1.2bn (£764m) credit for the 6km-long (four miles) road-rail bridge over the Padma River.

In a statement, the bank accused the government in Dhaka of failing to investigate claims of high-level fraud in connection with the project.

A Bangladeshi government minister has criticised the decision, calling it "regrettable".

Communications Minister Obaidul Quader said it was unfortunate that the World Bank had decided to pull out while the government was conducting an investigation into the corruption allegations.

He said the government would approach other partners or friendly nations to build the bridge.

'Unsatisfactory' response

"The World Bank cannot, should not, and will not turn a blind eye to evidence of corruption," the Washington-based institution said in the statement on Friday.

It said that the bank had provided evidence of corruption from two investigations to Bangladesh's government last September, asking to suspend officials suspected of corruption.

It also said it had sent a high-level team to Dhaka to fully explain its position on the issue

But Dhaka's response, the statement added, "has been unsatisfactory".

The corruption allegations also involve two former executives from Canada's engineering company SNC-Lavalin.

The company has been under investigation by Canada's prosecutors for more than a year, and the two executives now face charges of trying to bribe Bangladeshi officials.

The Padma bridge project aims to connect Bangladesh's principal sea ports and link to the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway.

It is estimated that some 30 million people in the region could directly benefit from the new road and rail connection.

At present all traffic across the Padma has to rely on ferries, which are infrequent and often unsafe.

Analysts in Bangladesh say it will be a huge challenge for the government to find an alternative financing which would match the interest rate and repayment schedule offered by the World Bank.

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