Citycell CEO Mehboob Chowdhury: The controversial telecom man

Mehboob Chowdhury became the top boss of the country’s oldest telecom carrier Citycell in a space of 12 years since his first job in the sector. His name often cropped up in both private and open discussions for his controversial twists and turns in his career. He is now caught in a graft case that involves Tk 3.5 billion in bank loans.

Published : 1 July 2017, 07:01 PM
Updated : 2 July 2017, 06:07 AM

On Saturday afternoon, Chowdhury flew into Dhaka from abroad only to be detained by the waiting immigration police at the airport, in a case filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission or ACC.

Chowdhury, 59, faces charges of embezzling the loans taken from eight banks and financial institutions for Citycell, now shuttered by telecom regulator BTRC, with AB Bank as the guarantor.

After he was led away by the ACC officials from the airport, the prospects of a jail term running up to seven years loomed over him.

The case also stacked charges against M Morshed Khan, chairman of Pacific Bangladesh Telecom that used Citycell as its brand name. Khan is BNP’s vice-chairman and former foreign minister.

The controversy engulfing Chowdhury goes beyond his career in the telecom industry as he was named in leaked documents, known as the Panama Papers released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2016.

As its CEO, Chowdhury presided over the demise of Citycell that was shut down in October last year for its failure to pay up Tk 4.77 billion in government dues.

The fall of Citycell from its early glory gained speed after Chowdhury joined the company as chief executive officer in 2010. The telecom operator lost 1.6 million customers over seven years on his watch.

Mehboob Chowdhury

His associates often blame him for sinking Citycell, the only CDMA-based and oldest mobile phone operator in Bangladesh, for a lack of strategy to steer the company through troubled times.

Chowdhury who studied management at Dhaka University stepped into the telecom sector by landing a job at Grameenphone as director of sales and marketing in 1998, according to his LinkedIn profile. He had worked there for more than six years. Prior to the Grameenphone job, he was a low-key businessman.

After his exit from Grameenphone, he joined Banglalink as chief commercial officer in 2005. After a 10-month stint, he had to leave the Orascom-owned company. His colleagues who worked with him said his fate was sealed after he had an open fight over his management style with Banglalink's chief financial officer who was close to the company's Egyptian owners, especially Naguib Sawiris.

Chowdhury then quickly became the chairman of the advisory board of Cogito Marketing Solutions, an advertising and PR company largely owned by his family. That created a conflict of interest in Chowdhury's profile as one of the top telecom executives.

On Saturday, an ACC team led by Deputy Director Sheikh Abdus Salam arrested Chowdhury after immigration police took him into custody, the corruption watchdog's spokesman Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya told

Salam, who is the plaintiff of the case, said they took Chowdhury to Banani Police Station afterwards and he was being kept there. He will be produced before court on Sunday.

According to the case dossier, Chowdhury is one of the actors in embezzling the loans disbursed between 2011 and 2015. The funds were used for financial benefit through fraud, corruption and misuse of power. AB Bank officials helped Pacific Telecom officials embezzle the money, it said.