How did Benazir and family leave the county unseen?

Benazir Ahmed

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on 18 April took the decision to launch an investigation into the assets of former inspector general of police (IGP) Benazir Ahmed. The commission's investigations revealed that Benazir and his family had amassed huge wealth. But while the investigations were underway, Benazir left the country on 4 May along with his family.

There is no trace either of Sheikh Abdul Hye, the mastermind of the BASIC Bank scam. ACC sources say he too has left the country along with his family. Earlier, Prasanta Kumar (PK) Halder, who had misappropriated Tk 350 billion (Tk 35000 crore) from various banks and financial institutions under various names, fled the country and was later nabbed in India.

Also Read

The question is, how did these persons who were in the limelight, dupe ACC, the intelligence agencies, the police and other agencies, and leave the country? Or were they given the opportunity to leave, and now the investigations and legal actions are mere eyewash? Observers believe that Benazir was given leeway in the past and in the present too.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Transparency International (TIB) executive director Iftekharuzzaman said that is only logical for the question to arise as to whether the exit from the country is part of an understanding. There is no way he could leave the country along with family without the knowledge of the concerned agencies. This is particularly not possible in the case of persons who are in the limelight.

Iftekharuzzaman also said, other than bringing Benazir before the law, those who aided and abetted him, and protected him, must also be brought before the law. Does the government have that ability?

Benazir Ahmed has been IGP from April 2020 till September 2022. Prior to that, he had been the RAB director general from January 2015 to April 2020. He had also been the commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP). He is from Tungipara, Gopalganj.

Former IGP Benazir Ahmed, known to be close to the government, received police protection even after retirement. In the notice, the home ministry at the time announced that he would be given a six-member plainclothes police team along with vehicle for his protection. He would also be given two armed bodyguards. Three security guards world be deployed at his house.  

In the meantime, ACC investigations have discovered that Benazir Ahmed and his family own 621 bighas of land, shares in 19 companies, 4 flats in Gulshan, savings certificates of Tk 3 million (Tk 30 lakh), 33 bank accounts and three BO accounts. Based on ACC's appeal, the court ordered the seizure and freezing of these properties and accounts. Various media investigations are also uncovering more land in various areas owned by Benazir and his family.

Also Read
Benazir Ahmed bought land on Saint Martin's Island
Also Read

ACC has even summoned Benazir, his wife and three daughters for interrogation. Benazir Ahmed has been summoned on 6 June, his wife Zeeshan Mirza and three daughters on 9 June.

Benazir had hardly been seen in public from even before the ACC investigations began. It was not possible to talk to him even on 27 May went an attempt was made to meet him at his house in Gulshan. A security guard there told Prothom Alo that he hadn't seen Benazir and family for a month or so. Police sources say he left the country on 4 May.

The statements of the ministers cannot be believed. It cannot be that the government was unaware that Benazir went to the airport and left the country.
Shahdeen Malik, Supreme Court lawyer

According to sources in the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), Benazir Ahmed and his family withdrew their money from their bank accounts before leaving the country.

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Saturday spoke to journalists about whether Benazir Ahmed was in the country or not. At an event in Dhaka University's Teacher-Students Center (TSC), he said,, "We have not placed any restrictions on him (Benazir) as yet. If he has left before the restrictions.... I still do not know whether for sure whether he is here or has left."   

Awami League general secretary and minister for road transport and bridges Obaidul Quader is being questioned almost every day by journalists about Benazir. He speaks every day. Yesterday, Sunday, he told a press briefing at the Awami League president's political office in Dhanmondi of the capital, even if Benazir is abroad, he will be tried. If proven guilty, he must come back to the country. The government will make no concessions.

Earlier, Obaidul Quader had said, while speaking to newspersons on Friday, that he knew nothing about Benazir leaving the country. That matter was unclear. On Saturday he said, Benazir's offence was as an individual. They must be punished for the offences. The Awami League government was placing him on trial.

The question is whether Benazir's offences are just personal. He has amassed wealth, forcefully brought Hindu lands, and deployed police and RAB personnel of those lands, when he was the DG of RAB and IG of police.  The government took no action against him. On the contrary, they provided him security after retirement. The government could not have been unaware that Benazir had bought land in various places and established companies in his name and in the name of his family members.

Observers say it is quite unbelievable that a prominent person like him could withdraw money from the banks, leave the country through the airport, without the knowledge of the intelligence agencies.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Supreme Court lawyer Shadeen Malik said, the statements of the ministers cannot be believed. It cannot be that the government was unaware that Benazir went to the airport and left the country.

Could Benazir have been detained?

There is nothing in the ACC law about imposing a ban on foreign travel of persons under investigation. On 20 December 2020 ACC has issued a letter to the immigration police superintendent (airport), asking them to take measures so that a certain Ataur Rahman could not leave the country. ACC had said that investigations were underway about Ataur Rahman's wealth beyond known means of income.

Ataur placed a writ in the High Court, challenging the legitimacy of the letter. The High Court passed its ruling on 16 March 2021, saying that until any specific law or regulation is enacted, permission must be taken from the concerned court to prevent anyone under investigation from going abroad. The court further said, this is high time for a relevant law or regulation to be enacted to prevent anyone from leaving the country.

ACC submitted a leave to appeal against the High Court ruling. On 27 September 2021 the Appellate Division settled the appeal along with an observation. After the full ruling was passed, the ACC lawyer Khurshed Alam Khan said that the court has observed that the court must be informed within three days of imposing any restriction on anyone from leaving the country.

Till now ACC has not appealed to the court to restrict Benazir from leaving the country. ACC Khurshid Alam, speaking to Prothom Alo, said it is not possible to prevent Benazir from going abroad if there is not proof that his wealth has been amassed through illegal means. ACC still does not know if his wealth has been illegally earned.

At various times ACC officials have said that they do not know where Abdul Hye is. Neither ACC nor the law enforcement agencies have clarified whether he is in the country or not. There wasn't any visible effort either to arrest Abdul Hye.

The Awami League government in 2009 appointed Sheikh Abdul Hye, a regional level Jatiya Party leader, as chairman of BASIC Bank. In face of allegations of irregularities and corruption, in mid-2014 he resigned. Later ACC investigations revealed that Abdul Hye had misappropriated Tk 22.65 billion (Tk 2265 crore) from BASIC Bank and siphoned it out of the country.

These incidents of fund misappropriation were taking place in knowledge of the government. The finance minister at the time, Abul Mal Abdul Muhit, speaking in and outside of the parliament, compared the BASIC Bank money misappropriation with downright robbery. Dhaka South City Corporation mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh in 2009 said, it is the failure of ACC that Abdul Hye has not be arrested after such a huge scam.

Innumerable reports were published in the media about Abdul Hye's irregularities and corruption. Instead of taking action against him, certain agencies placed pressure on the media to refrain from publishing reports about his misdeeds.

In September 2015 ACC filed 56 cases against 156 persons regarding the BASIC Bank scam. But Abdul Hye was not among the accused. It was only after eight years, in June 2023, that Abdul Hye was accused in the chargesheets of 58 cases. ACC did not arrest Abdul Hye all those years and failed to restrain him from leaving the country too.

Concerned persons say that the government has many tools in hand to prevent persons who have corruption allegations against them, from going abroad. It is the government that did not want to prevent them from leaving. No one believes that either Benazir or Abdul Hye will be brought back to the country and tried

"What's the use of such agencies?"

Abdul Hye and Benazir were not prevented from going abroad, but when it comes to the anti-government elements, there is a flurry of activity even outside of the legal process. BNP's vice chairman Major Hafiz Uddin (retd) on 12 December last year was sent back from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport immigration. He had been going to India for medical reasons. There was no court ban on his leaving the country.

Hafiz Uddin had said at the time. He filed a writ with the High Court the day after he was stopped from leaving. Later (14 December) he went abroad without any further obstacle.

Concerned persons say that the government has many tools in hand to prevent persons who have corruption allegations against them, from going abroad. It is the government that did not want to prevent them from leaving. No one believes that either Benazir or Abdul Hye will be brought back to the country and tried. In this manner a culture of lawlessness had grown among such people.

Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik told Prothom Alo that it is like closing the stable door once the horses have bolted. Benazir Ahmed's irregularities and corruption had long been discussed, this didn't just crop up overnight. If the government didn't know about it, if the agencies didn't know about it, what's the use of such agencies?       

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

Also Read