Sacked ACC official Sharif Uddin carried out investigations into three projects. A total of 155 people including bureaucrats and politicians are found to be involved.

Corruption in land acquisition worth Tk 780 million has been detected in three projects, according to an investigation report of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). About Tk 590 million has been embezzled.

The investigation report was submitted to the Chattogram ACC district office on 30 June. After the investigation, no action has been taken so far against those who are allegedly involved.

On the contrary, reinvestigation has been ordered, scrapping the previous investigation. ACC deputy director Md Sharif Uddin, who led the investigation, was transferred and then fired on Wednesday. Earlier on 30 January, he got death threats.

Those accused of corruption have filed a total of 19 allegations with the ACC chairman against him.

According to the ACC investigation report, a total of 155 people's involvement in the land acquisition corruption have been mentioned, and a large number of those are local Awami Leaders and activists in Cox's Bazar. Former DC Md Kamal Uddin was directly involved.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Thursday night, Sharif Uddin said, "I provoked the anger of government officials, influential politicians and a gang of middlemen."

He said, "They mounted pressure on me not to mention their names. As there is evidence of corruption, I didn't agree. Following their death threats, I am now afraid about my life."

People familiar with the investigation and local sources said the name of an influential secretary primarily came up in the investigation over land acquisition. But later his name was dropped. Names of 155 people including former DC and municipalty mayor Mujibur Rahman were mentioned.

Alleged corruption in three projects

The three projects where corruption allegations surfaced are: Cox's Bazar municipalty water treatment project, Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office building construction in Cox's Bazar and and Single Point Mooring (SPM) in Moheshkhali. Land acquisition of these projects began in 2018.

According to the investigation report, a gang of middlemen was active in handing over money to the affected people for this project. The middlemen would charge Tk 20 to Tk 30 per cent as commission, and the money was sent to local politicians and government officials concerned.

Former ACC chairman Golam Rahman said, "A syndicate always remains active over the land acquisition. The genuine land owners are deprived of compensation. Such corruption cannot be reined in unless the syndicate is identified and given exemplary punishment.

In January this year, this correspondent visited to see the progress of these three projects. The construction of these infrastructure is going on in full swing. Boundary walls have been erected in those sites. Failing to get compensation, most of the land owners are crowding thronging to the concerned offices including the district administration in Cox's Bazar.

Speaking to Prothom Alo about the matter, incumbent DC of Cox's Bazar Mamunur Rashid said, "The allegations of corruption were raised before I took over. The investigation carried out then was submitted before my joining. As a result, I cannot say anything about this. I have heard the standing committee on the land ministry is investigating. If they seek any cooperation, we will extend it."

From the frying pan to the fire

On intelligence information, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) conducted raids at a house of Cox's Bazar town in 2020. They arrested DC office survey officer Mohammad Wasim Khan. A total of Tk 93,60,000 was recovered. Later two more middlemen were arrested. Not only money, seven bags of land-related documents of these three projects were found at the house.

Cheques of compensation for the land acquisition, applications of land owners and land related other files were found. Separate investigations led by ACC investigation officer Md Sharif Uddin were conducted on these three projects. Extensive corruption over land acquisition came up in those three investigation reports. Names of others involved in the syndicate come up in the deposition of those three arrested people.

According to the investigation report, earlier allegations of corruption were raised in the land acquisition of Cox's Bazar to Dohazari railway line project, 1212 MW Matarbari coal-based power project, Megnama Pekua Naval Base project and Cox's Bazar airport project.

Names of corrupt people including mayor

ACC filed three separate cases for corruption in three projects. In the 750 pages of investigation report, allegation of corruption was brought about against 44 people including 23 government officials. In it Cox's Bazar former DC Md Kamal Hossain, additional deputy commissioner Md Ashraful and several officials of land office were recommended to make accused.

In the ACC list, there are names of seven politicians as accomplices in corruption. They are Awami League central religion affairs secretary and Cox's Bazar district unit Awami League president Sirajul Mostofa, Cox's Bazar district unit Awami League general secretary and Cox's Bazar municipality mayor Mujibur Rahman and his son Hasan Mehedi Rahman and Cox's Bazar district unit organising secretary Masedul Haque (Rashed), Maheskhali upazila Kalamarchhara union parishad chairman Tarique Bin Osman (Sharif) and Cox's Bazar Jubo Dal president Shariful Islam.

Besides, names of five journalists, eight lawyers and two bankers, who worked as part of the corrupt syndicate, have been mentioned in the report. All of them played role in embezzling money instead of disbursing money to real affected people.

About the allegation, Cox's Bazar former DC Kamal Hossain said although he was the head of the land acquisition committee, surveyor basically did the work in the filed level. He gave the approval on the basis of their information and data.

He said, "We conducted an investigation into the allegation of corruption But evidence of irregularities and corruption were not found."

Additional expenditure in land  purchase land for mayor's family

In 2015, Cox's Bazar municipality mayor at the time, Sarwar Kamal, proposed two places for water treatment project to the public engineering department. A total of Tk 12.3 million was estimated for the acquisition of land in PMKhaki area of the town while Tk 110 million was estimated for acquisition of land in the government's fallow land in Jilongja mouza.

The Cox's Bazar DC at the time, Kamal Hossain, and municipality mayor Mujibur Rahman supported the proposal to acquire 2.75 acres of land in Jilongja mouza for the construction of water treatment plant. A total of 1.71 acres of land was acquired from mayor Mujibur Rahman's wife and her elder brother. They are getting Tk 300 million.

According to land acquisition law, the land acquisition official is to examine whether there is any legal complexity centering the proposed land. Then ADC Ashraful Afsar and Cox's Bazar upazila nirbahi officer and land acquisition officer did not search alternative place. Although there is legal complexity regarding the land, they concealed it and acquired the land.

The registration and mutation of the land in the names of the mayor's wife and her elder brother was carried out several months ahead of acquisition in 2018. A total of 2.75 acres of land in Jilongja mouza was acquired for Tk 366.7 million. After being elected in 2018, Mujibur purchased 1.71 acres of land in the name of his wife and wife's elder brother. Afterwards bypassing the project implementing agency public engineering department, he himself recommended this the for project. The DC consented to acquiring the land.

The project could be implemented in two more alternative places on the other side of Bakkhali river. The cost of land would be Tk 11.1 million and Tk 12.3 million. But instead of selecting these places, the land of mayor's relatives was purchased for Tk 366.7 million. Meanwhile, cheques of Tk 70.50 million have been disbursed to several people including mayor's wife's elder brother. And cheques of Tk 220 million is under process for disbursement to mayor's wife.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, elder brother of the mayor's wife, Mizanur Rahman, claimed, "My land has been selected for the water treatment plant. The government has acquired it. I have got the money. There was no influence here."

Despite making calls, Mujibur Rahman was not available for comment.

ACC sources said local government secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed disbursed cheques of Tk 75.5 million as first installment for the land acquisition for water treatment plant at Cox's Bazar circuit house on 11 July 2020.

But according to Section 19 of land acquisition law, 'Cheques have to be disbursed in the field in public'. Earlier, cheques for land acquisition are disbursed at district land office. It is mentioned that the cheque of mayor's wife's elder brother Mizanur Rahman was disbursed at Hilltop Circuit House.

There is a rule that local UP chairman or a lawyer will verify the cheque recipient land owner. But defying the rule in this case too, mayor Mujib himself identified his wife's elder brother. As per the rule, the day cheques will be disbursed, signatures will be given on the same day. But mayor Mujibur Rahman signed on 9 July while his wife's elder brother signed on 11 July.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Cox's Bazar district administration land acquisition officer Shamim Husain said this cannot be done violating the rules.

PBI and CID on land of fake owner

The district administration acquired 100 decimals of land at Kalatali adjacent to sea beach at a cost of Tk 290 million for the office building of PBI and CID. The ACC investigation reveals the process of land acquisition was not proper. A little more than Tk 170 million would be spent if the land acquisition was done in accordance with the rules. Another agency of the government acquired a portion of the land in the eighties. Spending the public money, that land has been acquired again.

According to the investigation, a syndicate of 15 fake land owners embezzled Tk 290 million. Md Idris, Belayet Hossain and Nurul Haque led the gang.

At the beginning of construction of PBI Cox's Bazar office, the unit chief was Md Moniruzzaman. The investigation report recommended to make him accused. He is now the superintendent of police in Khagrachhari.

About the allegation he said, "I was in charge in the beginning of the project. After my transfer from there, the compensation for land acquisition was disbursed. How did my name come in the investigation?"

Besides, it has been mentioned that same type of corruption has taken place in the land acquisition for Single Point Mooring construction project at Maheshkhali.

A total of 144 acres of agricultural land at Kalarmarchhara union was occupied for making office for the project and keeping materials.

The ACC investigation found cheques were disbursed in the name of a group of fake land owners.

They withdrew the compensation money in November and December in 2018. Later real land owners besieged the district administration office and organised a human chain.

About such corruption in land acquisition, senior lawyer Shadeen Malik said not only in Cox's Bazar, some influential people are getting news in advance wherever a project is being taken across the country. They are purchasing that land and selling in high rates to the government.

He said Sharif Uddin carried out investigation of large projects. He named powerful persons in the investigation report. Now it is the responsibility of the state to ensure his security.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.

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