Also testifying in this case were president of Faridpur town Awami League Nazmul Islam Khandaker alias Leby, district Sramik League treasurer Billal Hossain, town Jubo League’s former general secretary Asibur Rahman Farhan and district Chhatra League president Nishan Mahmud alias Shameem. They all described how so much land was acquired in such a short span of time. Their stories outdid any fantasy fiction.
The name of a particular ‘godfather’ cropped up in all of their statements. It was under his shelter that these two brothers prospered. They would have to pay 2 per cent from all their extortion, tender deals, land grabbing and so on.
This godfather is none other than the brother of former minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, vice president of district Awami League Khandaker Mohtesham Hossain alias Babar. It was he who ushered in outsiders, polluting Awami League’s politics in Faridpur.
Mohtesham Hossain Babar hasn’t been going to Faridpur for a year and a half now. There are all sorts of stories about why he stays away. But even if he wouldn’t go to Faridpur, he would pull the strings from Dhaka and take his commission. In their confessions to CID, Barkat and Rubel said, no work could be done without giving ‘Babar chacha’ (uncle Babar) a commission.
Attempts were made several times to contact Mohtesham Hossain Babar over telephone on Friday and Saturday, but he did not receive the calls. Prothom Alo had spoken to him on two earlier occasions, when he had said he didn’t leave home because of coronavirus. He had rejected all allegations brought against him, saying he had made some political blunders, but these were not intentional.
Sudden crackdown crime
The changes in Faridpur’s politics began with the raid on the house of Awami League’s district president Subal Chandra Saha. The raid took place on 16 May night. Investigating the matter, police found that quarters within Awami League were behind the incident. These included elements who had joined Awami League from other parties. After that, on orders from a high level in the government, a crackdown on crime was launched in Faridpur.
Barkat and Rubel were arrested as part of this drive. The elder brother Sajjad Hossain alias Barkat had been the town Awami League general secretary at the time of arrest. His younger brother Imtiaz Hasan alias Rubel had been wielding his power after becoming the editor of a local newspaper.
After the two brothers, others were gradually arrested too. The 18 others arrested included town Awami League president Nazmul Islam Khandaker alias Leby, town Awami League joint general secretary Mahfuzur Rahman alias Mamun, district Sramik League treasurer Billal Hossain, town Jubo League former general secretary Asibur Rahman Farhan, Faridpur pourashava’s extended ward no. 25 Awami League general secretary Muniruzzaman, town Awami League’s women affairs secretary Bonya Mondal, Kotwali Swechhasebok League joint general secretary Hamidur Rahman, Awami League ward no. 16 president Narayan Chakraborty and district Chhatra League president Nishan Mahmud alias Shameem.
Eleven cases were filed against these persons. One case was filed by the CID headquarters. After this money laundering case, CID seized Barkat and Rubel’s houses, vehicles, transport company, hotel, rest house and other property. All 18 arrested in the 11 cases have given depositions at the courts in Faridpur and Dhaka.
Contents of the confessions
Other than Barkat and Rubel, confessions in the money laundering case were given by Nazmul Islam Khandaker alias Leby, Billal Hossain, Asibur Rahman Farhan and Nishan Mahmud alias Shameem. Barkat and Rubel gave their depositions on 24 July at the Dhaka metropolitan magistrate’s court. Of the other four, Nazmul Islam Khandaker, Billal Hossain and Asibur Rahman Farhan testified on 25 August. Nishan Mahmud’s testimony was taken on 26 August. Barkat and Rubel have been taken to Faridpur for questioning in another case. The others have been sent to jail.
According to police and court sources, in his testimony at the court, Nazmul Islam Khandaker said that some time in 2016 a secret meeting had been held between former minister Mosharraf Hossain’s APS and Jubo League leader AHM Fuad, the chamber president Siddiqur Rahman and himself. It was decided at the meeting that they would share all government contracts among themselves. He was given charge of the Faridpur passport office, the pourashava, BRTA and the footpaths. Town Jubo League joint convener Toriqul Islam alias Nasim would collect toll on his behalf.
In his statement, Nazmul Islam said, 2 per cent of the earnings from these activities had to be paid to the former minister’s brother. He gave an instance where he received Tk 5 million (Tk 50 lakh) from Tk 55 million (Tk 5.5 crore) earned in a deal. Babar was given Tk 20 million (Tk 2 crore) and Mosharraf Hossain’s APS Fuad got Tk 30 million (Tk 3 crore). Nazmul said that which money earned in such a manner, he had purchased a flat in Baitul Aman of the capital city, a car and land in Faridpur.
How Billal became rich
Billal was an employee at the Raj Poultry Farm owned by the former minister’s brother. All on a sudden he became unofficial finance secretary of the district Sramik League. Following in Barkat and Rubel’s footsteps, he too began making money through contacts. He would get contracts of the public works department, education engineering, BADC and the pourashava.
In his deposition at court, Billal said he had done work of around Tk 1 billion (Tk 100 crore) in the last 7 or 8 years. He paid 2 per cent commission to Babar for each contract. He had a brick field on 120 bighas of land in Pacchar of Krishnanagar union of Faridpur sadar. His brother-in-law Bablu would look after this brick field. He had another brick field on 25 bighas of land in Chandipur of the district. And 10 bighas of this is government khaas land. He has two flats in Dhaka, one in Dhanmondi and the other in Mohammadpur. He also owns three cars.
From slogans to a big leader
Former town Jubo League general secretary Asibur Rahman alias Farhan, in his testimony, said that he would attend and chant slogans at the public meetings of former minister and member of parliament of the Faridpur-3 (sadar) constituency, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, in and around Faridpur town. This led him to becoming the town Jubo League general secretary. He was part of the syndicate that emerged in Faridpur, controlling the tender deals and extortion. With the money he made, he bought a flat in Mirpur, Dhaka and land in Faridpur’s Bil Mahmudpur. He also owns the Rain Forest Chinese restaurant in Faridpur town.
Shameem guarded the tenders
The 6'4" in tall and handsome Nishan Mahmud Shameem studied at the Government Rajendra College and in 2015 became the district Chhatra League president. He was a follower of Mosharraf Hossain’s APS Fuad. He would be kept on guard to monitor the contract work at the government offices. He would make sure no one other than their own people could buy or submit tenders. He had a ‘helmet gang’ for the purpose.
Shameem admitted his involvement in the attack on Faridpur sadar upazila Awami League general secretary Shamsul Islam Chowdhury on 22 December 2019. Police arrested Shameem on 21 August on money laundering charges.
Their political identity was their source of power. They were all close to the former minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain
Many people in Faridpur have complained that Barkat and Rubel, in the name of buying land, actually grabbed land at their will. If they liked any land, even if it was not for sale, they would grab it by any means. They would even make relatives of the land owners file cases to get them sent to jail. The victims never received any cooperation from the police.
Resident of Char Kamalapur in Faridpur town, Ibrahim Sikder, bought 5 decimals of land by the bypass area. The plot of land caught the attention of Barkat and Rubel. Speaking to Prothom Alo, Ibrahim Sikder said, “One day Barkat called me over the phone to go to his office where he asked me to sign a paper. In fear of my life, I signed the document. Later I found out that they had become the owner of the land by means of ‘heba’ (gift). One has to be a relative to receive land as ‘heba’, but I am not related to Barkat or Rubel in any way.”
Widow Jamuna Rani Neogi of Brahmankanda village in Faridpur wanted to sell her land. She even negotiated a deal with a buyer for Tk 350,000 (Tk 3.5 lakh) per decimal. When Barkat and Rubel got a whiff of this, they forced her to sell them the land at Tk 220,000 (Tk2.20 lakh) per decimal. Rani Neogi said, “Life is more precious than land and so I remained silent.”
Nasrin Akhter, who worked for a private firm, bought 5 decimals of land for Tk 1.8 million (Tk 18 lakh) in 2011. She was forced to sell that land to Rubel and Barkat for just Tk 500,000 (Tk 5 lakh).
Retired corporal Golam Mostafa Miah bought 10 decimals of land near the bypass 30 years ago. He laid the foundation for a three-storey building. In 2018 Barkat and Rubel forcefully took over that land, giving him just Tk 1 million (Tk 10 lakh).
Accounts officer at the Faridpur sadar upazila engineering office, Mokaddes Hossain, said that he had 10 decimals of land at town’s bypass. One day he found out that the boundary wall was broken and the land taken over. The local people told him. “They have taken it. Don’t say anything.” He was too scared to utter a word.
There are endless such complaints against Barkat and Rubel. The people say that the police and the local administration openly aided and abetted them in these activities. The police would not pay heed to any complaints against them. It was same with the district administration officers. Their political identity was their source of power. They were all close to the former minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Faridpur district Awami League president, lawyer Subal Chandra Saha said if the government took up a civil case, then a decision could be taken about all this illegal property.
District Awami League general secretary Syed Masud Hossain said the wealth amassed by the Barkat-Rubel gang was unlawfully acquired. They oppressed people to make their wealth. The government should seize the assets and compensate the victims.
* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the online English edition by Ayesha Kabir