The tale of two brothers in Faridpur

Barkat and Rubel's rest houseProthom Alo

The night of 7 June came as a surprise to the people of Faridpur. News broke at after 11pm that Barkat and his brother Rubel has been arrested. No one could believe it. After all, even the district administration, the police, everyone had been at their beck and call. Why would these powerful persons be arrested? A fresh wave of apprehension swept over the town – was there anyone new now going to take over?

A lawyer of Faridpur sat in his chamber and related the story of how the town was caught up in the arrest of the two brothers. One month and 20 days have passed since the incident and peace has been restored to Faridpur. The people who had been silent so long are now gradually speaking out. And gradually the horrendous crimes of these two brothers are coming to light.

Sajjad Hossain Barkat and Imtiaz Hasan alias Rubel

CID brought these brothers to Dhaka on 18 July and began questioning them. On 24 July they gave confessional statements at the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court. They are now in Dhaka Central Jail.

The elder of the two, Sajjad Hossain Barkat (47), is the general secretary of Faridpur city Awami League. Younger brother Imtiaz Hasan alias Rubel is his associate. Their main identity is that they are both extremely close to the former minister Engineer Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain. They used this clout to carry out their extortion, land grabbing and other criminal activities, amassing wealth in billions. There is not a single locality in the town where they don’t own land.

Recent picture of Barkat and Rubel's house in Badarpur
Prothom Alo

Local Awami League leaders now openly say who indulged these two brothers in their nefarious activities over the past six or seven years. Speaking to Prothom Alo, an accused in the Agartala conspiracy case and former vice president of Awami League, Nur Mohammed, said Awami League does not exist in Faridpur. The actual Awami Leaguers have been driven away. Under the shelter of Khandaker Mosharraf, Rubel and Barkat have built up their wealth. Criminals and land grabbers like Rubel and Barkat would not have come into existence without strong backing.

Former member of parliament from Faridpur sadar and former BNP minister Chowdhury Kamal Ibne Yusuf, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “Barkat, Rubel and their people had held the people of Faridpur hostage all these days. Mosharraf Hossain is the root of their power. Under his protection they have amassed property worth billions and billions of taka through extortion, land grabbing and other criminal activities.”

Where has all this wealth come from?

And the lifestyle of these wealthy brothers is also a shocking story. Elder brother Barkat has a penchant for SUVs. He owns a Harrier, a Nissan Patrol and a BMW SUV. The younger brother owns a BMW, a microbus and another sedan. They have a rest house for their private use, made out with all facilities of a five-star hotel. The people of Faridpur call it Barkat’s ‘harem house’.

How did they make so much money in such a short span of time? In his statement to the magistrate, under Section 164, Barkat said that everything ran according to their wishes in Faridpur. The departments of local government and engineering (LGED), public health, roads and highways, education, the water development board, BIWTC, public works, BRTA, the power office, BADC, the passport office and even the sidewalks were all under their control. They would get a 15 per cent cut from all development work.

After his arrest, Barkat’s brother Rubel said that another source of their income was land grabbing and extortion. They would simply take over any land that caught their fancy. There are allegations that certain rulers of the leading party, along with the district administration and the police directly aided and abetted them in these criminal activities.

BMW eized from Barkat and Rubel's house
Prothom Alo

Behind the arrests

Awami League leaders of Faridpur said that everything was going hunky-dory all these days for Barkat and Rubel but then things changed after the attack on the house of Faridpur district president, veteran politician and lawyer Subal Chandra Saha.

Without mentioning any names, Subal Chandra Saha filed a case regarding the attack. The incident was described in the complaint. It said that around 7 in the evening of 16 May around 50 or 60 people surrounded Subal’s house. Subal’s ‘fault’ was that he didn’t turn up at the iftar held the previous day at former minister Mosharraf Hossain’s residence, Afsana Manzil, in Badarpur. The attackers asked him how he dared not to attend the iftar, abused him in filthy language and beat up his driver. After they left, Subal Saha went to Mosharraf Hossain’s house to ask about the incident. Mosharraf was at home but did not meet him and did not even answer his phone calls. After waiting for some time, Subal Saha returned home. Then after an hour, he went to Mosharraf’s house again, this time with his wife and son. This time too Mosharraf refused to meet him. While they were at Mosharraf Hossain’s house, a second attack was launched on Subal Saha’s house. Around 200 people attacked and damaged the house and tried to set it on fire. The attackers threatened to kill him.

When asked why this sudden attack was launched on his house, Subal Saha told Prothom Alo, “I have said what I want to say in the complaint I have filed and have nothing new to say. I have mentioned in my complaint that the former minister Mosharraf Hossain did not even meet me when I was in such danger.”

When Mosharraf Hossain was contacted over telephone about the matter, he said, “He can say what he wants about me, I don’t care. Whether I talked to anyone or didn’t take to anyone, does not prove that I was behind the attack.”

The news of the attack reached the attention of the top government leadership and orders came for an independent investigation into the matter. The police then got down to the task.

The cat is out of the bag

Police investigations have revealed that the attack on the Awami League district president’s house was led by the city Awami League joint general secretary Mahfuzur Rahman alias Mamun. And it was the two brothers Barkat and Rubel who had ordered the attack. District police super Alimuzzaman said, they had begun the investigation with ample evidence in hand.

The brothers were arrested at 11pm in the night of 7 June from the Rajbari intersection. Faridpur Kotwali police station sub-inspector (SI), Kabirul Huq, said that two unlicenced American-made pistols and ammunition were recovered from their vehicle at the time. Afterwards, during the raids on their house and guest house, four more firearms, bullet shells, ammunition, liquor, foreign currency and 1,200 sacks of relief rice were recovered.

Further raids were conducted. Arrests were made of 13 persons including councilor and Awami League city joint general secretary Mahfuzur Rahman alias Mamun, the pourashava extended ward 23 Awami League general secretary Muniruzzaman, city Awami League women affairs secretary Banya Mandal, Kotwali Swechhashebok League joint general secretary Hamidur Rahman, and Ward 16 Awami League president Narayan Chakraborty. Nine cases were filed against them and the two brothers. After filing one case, CID seized their vehicles, house, hotel, rest house and all their property.

All 13 of the arrested gave confessional statements under Section on 164. The despicable picture of Faridpur politics came to light. CID’s additional deputy inspector general Sheikh Md Rezaul Haider told Prothom Alo that the confessional statement made by Barkat and Rubel in the Dhaka court has revealed in detail who had assisted them, who had protected them, and who were involved in the criminal activities along with them.

Duck farm of the two brothers on forcefully occupied land
Prothom Alo

Leaving Kamal for Mosharraf

In the 1996 and 2001, Awami League candidate former minister Mosharraf Hossain lost in the national elections. In the 2008 election, Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Mujahid was the BNP alliance candidate. Former minister Chowdhury Kamal Yusuf contested as an independent candidate. This split up BNP’s votes and Mosharraf Hossain easily won.

In January 2009, Mosharraf Hossain was made the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment minister. He won in the 2014 election uncontested. In March that year, he got his younger brother Khandokar Mohtesham Hossain alias Babar to become the sadar upazila chairman.

Former treasurer of the district Awami League, Mahbubur Rahman, said BNP and Jamaat people began to stream into Awami League with Babar. These people were given place in the party to consolidate his own power, while the long standing loyal leaders were sidelined. It was then that the controversial Barkat and Rubel entered the Awami League camp. District Awami League’s former relief affairs secretary Mokarram Babu said he had protested against their induction at the time.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Mosharraf Hossain’s brother Mohtesham Hossain alias Babar said he did not knowingly induct any BNP people into the party. If any of them did enter, that may have been a political mistake on his part.

Mosharraf Hossain, in this regard, said, “It is not that just these two came from outside of the party to join Awami League. Many others joined too. I can’t be blamed for whatever they do.”

Barkat and Rubel are the sons of the Faridpur Brahmankanda village BADC storekeeper Abdus Salam. Barkat passed his SSC and Rubel HSC. Rubel had a job and Barkat was a cadre of a certain Babu Koshai’s criminal gang. They were locally known as nephews of Khokan razakar. Their uncle Zahidur Rahman alias Khokan is a fugitive, convicted for crimes committed against humanity in 1971.

Barkat took up work in his uncle’s TV showroom in Nagarkanda of Faridpur and later took up toll collection from highway buses. Rubel had a low-paid job in a private firm.

When BNP came to power in 1991, Kamal Ibne Yusuf became the Faridpur sadar member of parliament. At the time, the sadar upazila president Chan Khandakar was close to Kamal Ibne Yusuf. Barkat and Rubel were Chan Khandakar’s men and would do his errands. On 18 November 1994, the city Awami League publicity secretary lawyer AHM Mohiuddin alias Khokan was killed. Barkat was the main accused in the murder with Rubel as their third accused in the case. Chan Khandakar pulled strings to save the two brothers from the murder case.

Previously in 1992 they had severed the wrist of a certain Zakir Hossain in Komarpur. They had been close to criminal Babu Koshai. Towards 2006 Babu Koshai was killed in crossfire and the criminal gang broke up. Rubel then got into small contracting businesses.

Catch and imprison

After BNP ignominious defeat in 2008, Chan Khandokar died. Barkat and Rubel then took shelter with Awami League. They were joined by district Jubo League convenor AHM Fuad. Mosharraf Hossain's APS at the time, Satyajit Mukherjee and Awami League leader Mokarram Babu first obstructed this, but several cases were filed against them and they were placed behind bars.

Mokarram Babu said that on 23 April 2015 Ramna police arrested him from in front of the minster’s house in Dhaka and he was charged with rape, extortion and had to face 11 cases in all. He had to spend seven and a half years in jail. Satyajit faced 25 cases and is still in jail.

After Satyajit and Mokarram Babu went to jail, everything went under Rubel and Barkat’s control. Barkat first became the general secretary of the pourashava Jubo League and later city Awami League’s general secretary. He is still in that post.

Former general secretary of Faridpur district Awami League Bipul Ghosh spoke about these political manipulations. He told Prothom Alo Barkat and Rubel began their forceful takeover of power with the help of certain original Awami League and some that had come in from BNP. Anyone protesting or obstructing them would be beaten up. One after the other they took over various organisations in Faridpur. First they took over the Faridpur bus stand owners association, then the diabetic association, the Faridpur chamber, the district sports organisation, Red Crescent Society, even Dr Zahid Memorial Shishu Hospital’s committee. They wielded their power with the help of the police. Many loyal Awami League leaders left the city.

Power play

Barkat and Rubel’s confessional statements reveal how they took over Faridpur’s businesses, contract work, and government structures. Their confessional statements were recorded on 28 June by the Faridpur judicial magistrate Faruk Hossain.

In his confessional statement in court, Barkat said he joined Awami League politics since 2012. In 2015 he and his brother Rubel held a secret meeting with Mosharraf Hossain’s APS Jubo League leader AHM Fuad, city Awami League president Nazmul Hasan Khandokar alias Lebi and Faridpur chamber president Siddiqur Rahman. In the meeting they decided to share all work of the government organisations. He got charge of the LGED tenders. He confessed that they would get a 15 percent commission on all LGED development contracts. No one would get any contract without going through them. Dhaka Times editor Arifur Rahman alias Dolan would help them with the ministry’s work outside of the district. He would take a commission in return.

Arifur Rahman did not respond to any phone call made to ascertain the matter. When his personal office was contacted, they said he hadn’t been coming to office for long.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, a contractor said that that it was Barkat and Rubel who would decide on which contractor could submit their bids for any tender. If anyone did not obey them, they would be picked up and harassed. All contract work in Faridpur would be done for at least 10 per cent more than the rate quoted by the government. The contractor said that the district LGED office was located near the court areas, but Barkat and Rubel had it shifted to Badarpur near their house so they could keep control on it.

When asked about this shift in location, Faridpur LGED executive engineer Faruk Hossain that this was shifted before he joined. He said if there were many irregularities in the tenders, this couldn’t be understood from within the office. However, it was often noticed that though many schedules for a contract were sold, only a few bids were submitted. It was clear that there was something fishy, but there was nothing to be done.

However, sources within that office revealed that the company of the two brothers got 420 work orders on an average of Tk 667 crore over the past five years.

Their work was carried out by Barkat Group’s executive officer Rezwan Ahmed and accountant Haider Ali. President of the Faridpur chamber of commerce and industry Siddiqur Rahman controls the public works, road and highways, education engineering and public health contracts. He has, however, denied the allegations brought against him.

Faridpur road department executive engineer KM Naquibul Bari claims that as all roads and highways work is done through EGP and so cannot be controlled. Barkat and Rubel snatched away two contracts of Tk 190 million from contractors.

In his confessional statement, Barkat went on to say that under orders of Mosharraf Hossain’s APS Fuad, Swecchashebok League’s Fahad Bin Wajed controls the BADC, Water Development Board and power office work. Fuad had a criminal gang known as the ‘helmet bahini’ or ‘helmet force’. They go around on their motorbikes committing various crimes.

In the confessional statement it was further said that city Awami League president Nazmul Hasan Khandokar Lebi was in charge of the passport office, pourashava, BRTA and footpaths. City Jubo League convenor Tariqul Islam Nasim would collect toll money on his behalf.

Barkat said that the district Chhatra League general secretary Saiful Islam and SM Kamal Jamal would collect toll from the bus counters. This money was split with Kabirpur’s Shohag Sheikh, Shahidul Molla and Abdus Sattar Molla.

The BIWTC C&B terminal was controlled by Dikrir Char union Awami League president Anwar Hossain Abu Member and joint general secretary Md Khairuzzaman. Faridpur Medical College area was controlled by the armed Aliabad union ward 2 former member Mobarak Khalifa, city Jubo League convenor Minar Hasan Chowdhury, Shohag Sheikh and Ajmal Hossain alas Chhoto Azam.

Land grabbing

Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, a resident of Faridpur’s Goalchamat Wireless Road was returning home after Fajr prayers when a police constable said he had to go with him immediately. When he arrived at the police station, the Kotwali station’s office in charge (OC) at the time, Mohsin, placed him in lock-up.

Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury said, “I was kept in lock-up the entire day and then the OC called by brother and said unless we come to an understanding with Barkat and Rubel, I would be placed in crossfire. Only when my brother agreed to meet Barkat and Rubel was I released.”

OC Mohsin has been promoted as ASP and is now with SPBn, the force in charge of Ganabhaban security. He says he doesn’t remember the incident which happened so long ago.

Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury recalled another incident where a few of them had bought 8 acres of land auctioned by Islami Bank. Suddenly Barkat said that half of the land had to be given to him. Eventually they were forced to hand over 1 acre 10 decimals to Barkat.

Many others were similarly forced to hand over land to Barkat. These persons include Shamim Hasan, Sagar Molla and Rafiqul Islam. Barkat and Rubel simply grabbed any land they wanted. The police and the district administration assisted them.

Lawyer of the Faridpur court Ashok Kumar Das has 25 decimals of land worth Tk 40 million. He was forced to sell that for just Tk 8 million. He suddenly died on 6 April 2019 after the land was handed over and registered. Many see this death as mysterious.

Before the city’s bypass road was extended, Barkat bought up all the land in the adjacent areas at low prices. In 2018 when the land was acquired for the bypass, he manipulated the land documents and showed the price to be much higher. The deputy commissioner at the time was said to have helped him in this ploy. That deputy commissioner is now in the health ministry and was unwilling to speak on the matter.

Former IG of police and ruling party MP Nur Mohammad said that political leaders can lobby and request for the sake of people, as part of their public service. But the police and the administration cannot listen to such requests and lobbying if it is illegal. Only those who are corrupt themselves support such illegal lobbying because they are benefited too.

This group also grabs government’s khas land. After 7 acres of khas land were registered in Barkat’s name at the Charbharashan registry office, the papers were sent for mutation to the assistant commissioner (land)’s office. Upazila nirbani officer Kamrunnahar was in charge of Charbhadraan at the time and halted the settlement. It lies in that state now. But Barkat and Rubel paid no heed to all this and went ahead to grab 100 acres of land in the North Channel and 700 acres in Dikrir Char union and laid down a brick road and set up buildings there. A signboard there declares the land belongs to Barkat Agro Pvt Ltd and a hybrid coconut grove. There are 16 acres and 61 decimals of land on the char in the name of Barkat’s wife Afroza Parvin.

Several leaders of Faridpur Awami League said that Barkat and Rubel have taken over huge amounts of land in the town and surrounding areas by threatening people.

Police officials say that during interrogation, the two brothers have admitted to having 573 acres of land. These plots of land are in Dhulandi, Goalchamat, Badarpur, Koijuri, Kabirpur, Shibranpur, Boalmari, Ragunandapur, Dikrir Char, Rajbari’s Khankhanapir, Macchar, Char Salishpur, Munshi Bazar, Bypass, Brahmankanda, Chandipur, North Channel and Rajbari intersection.

In his confessional statement given to the magistrate in Faridpur on 18 June, Barkat said that a cadre, Afzal Hossain alias Shiplu would look after the occupied lands. He would always carry illegal arms with him.

Press Club taken over, journalists beaten

In 2016 a newspaper declaration for a daily called Bhorer Protyasha was given overnight. The publisher was Barkat and editor Imtiaz Hasan alias Rubel. Rubel was nor qualified to be an editor. After becoming editor and changing parties, he took over the Faridpur Press Club, much to the shock of the journalists. The paper was shut down the day after they were arrested.

In his confessional statement to the Faridpur court on 18 June, Rubel said that the Dhaka Times editor Arifur Rahman Dolon had advised him to become editor and take over the press club. He did so in 2016 and expelled the club’s six-time elected president Habibur Rahman and general secretary Mahbubul Huq alias Piklu, harassing them with false accusations. Their people physically tortured the Prothom Alo Faridpur correspondent.

The hammer and helmet gangs

The ‘helmet bahini’ or ‘helmet force’ wields it clout over Faridpur city. They spread fear wherever they go in a convoy of 10 to 12 motorbikes, each with three riders, all wearing helmets. They run under orders from Mosharraf Hossain’s APS Fuad, but Fuad remains in hiding after the raids in Faridpur.

Then there is another motorbike gang and they carry hammers. They are the ‘haturi bahini’ or ‘hammer force’. This was run by Barkat himself but the members have gone into hiding after the arrest of the two brothers.

The helmet gang attacked the house of Faridpur Government Rajendra College’s physics professor Tapan Debnath on 15 May 2018, drove the people out from the house and locked it up. Tapan Debnath’s fault was that he was the brother-in-law of the Faridpur journalist Prabir Sikder. Prabir Sikder has written online against this gang. They also attacked the home of Prabir Sikder’s brother Subir Sikder. Tapan Debnath only managed to return to his home after one month and nine days upon orders from the IG of police.

Kotwali thana Awami League general secretary Shamsul Alam Chowdhury is a businessman. He said Barkat and Rubel demanded Tk 5 million from him. When he refused, on 22 December night last year around 20 members of the hammer gang beat him and his son up. He filed a case against them almost one year later on 12 June.

Dulal Laskar who runs the Faridpur bus stand said that on 26 August 2018 Barkat and Rubel attacked the bus stand and took control of it. He could not go there anymore.

Police said that a Christian boy named Chhoton Biswas was killed in 2016 over toll collection from transport and it was Barkat and Rubel who had ordered this killing. But their names were dropped from the charge sheet for mysterious reasons.

Lawyer and Awami League leaders were assaulted and seriously injured for going to Tungipara without the permission of Barkat and Rubel. Many others were beaten and assaulted in such a manner.

Barkat admitted to two young men being beaten to death in 2015 in Koijuri and people of their gang were involved in the killing.

Faridpur town is now peaceful after the arrest of the two brothers. District Awami League former treasurer Mahbubur Rahman Khan said that now no one of the two gangs are in town. The people all these days had just been deaf and dumb.

The residents say that the town has police, administration, law and a court, how did these political criminals and godfathers rule for so long? Why was no action taken?

Former inspector general of police and ruling party MP Nur Mohammad, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that political leaders can lobby and request for the sake of people, as part of their public service. But the police and the administration cannot listen to such requests and lobbying if it is illegal. Only those who are corrupt themselves support such illegal lobbying because they are benefitted too. Those who are involved in such illegal activities must be caught and given exemplary punishment.

This report has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir