Bangladesh on Saturday called a World Bank decision to cancel a $1.2-billion loan to build the nation's biggest bridge -- aimed at transforming the poverty-hit south -- "a bolt from the blue".
The development lender on Friday cancelled the loan for the country's Padma bridge project, saying the government had not cooperated in investigating "high-level" corruption in the project.
"The World Bank cannot, should not, and will not turn a blind eye to evidence of corruption," the World Bank said.
Bangladesh's Communications Minister Obaidul Quader told reporters the Washington-based bank had scrapped the credit deal based on allegations "which do not necessarily mean that corruption charges have been confirmed".
"It is unfortunate, regrettable -- and mysterious," the minister said, adding that the lender's decision came at a time when the country's anti-graft agency was investigating the allegations.
"It's like a bolt from the blue," he said.
The proposed 6.2-kilometer (3.8-mile) bridge over the Padma river -- the local name for the Ganges -- would connect the capital Dhaka to coastal districts.
The $3-billion bridge is planned to go into service in 2014.
It is designed to carry a highway and rail line and is aimed at transforming the country's impoverished southern region through better road and rail connections.
Right now, all traffic across the Padma must rely on ferries, which are often unsafe due to overloading and poor maintenance.
The loan was approved in February 2011, but allegations of corruption in the tender process led the bank to freeze the loan late last year.
The World Bank said it had provided evidence of corruption from two probes into the bridge case to Bangladesh's prime minister, finance minister and the Anti-Corruption Commission's chairman in September 2011 and April 2012.
The Bangladesh chapter of the Berlin-based global graft watchdog Transparency International called the World Bank decision "embarrassing and disappointing".
"It comes as an acid-test for the government, which must demonstrate to the nation that it has the courage and capacity to bring to justice those against whom allegations of corruption have been raised," it said.
It also asked the bank to review the decision as it said the bridge is much needed to reduce crushing poverty in Bangladesh's south.
"Neither the World Bank, not the government can punish the people of the country for an alleged crime of a handful of people," Transparency International Bangladesh head Iftekharuzzaman, who uses one name, said in a statement.
The corruption allegations also involve Canadian contractor SNC-Lavalin.
Late last year, Ottawa issued charges against two former company executives after a year-long investigation using evidence provided by the World Bank.