The ACC investigation revealed corruption of Tk 780 million took place in land acquisition of three projects including the SPM project. Sharif Uddin investigated the corruption in the three projects.
The SPM project is being implemented by Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation’s subsidiary, Eastern Refinery Limited. The China Petroleum Pipeline (CPP) Bureau is working as the contractor of the project. The company oversees the matters ranging from providing the local political leaders with the business of supplying the construction materials to giving compensation to the victims of land acquisition which is basically the responsibility of the district administration’s land department.
SPM’s project director Hasnat Sharif told Prothom Alo, “We are implementing the project through the contracting firm after getting the land from the district administration. We don’t look after the land acquisition and disbursement of compensation.”
Asked about the allegation of his involvement with corruption in the ACC probe, Hasnat Sharif said, “We’ve given our reply to the authorities concerned about the allegations we received.”
Misappropriating compensation meant for tree owners
The district administration acquired 191 acres of forest land in Moheshkhali for the project. There was human settlement in the area and people used the land for cultivation. A total of Tk 300 million was allocated as compensation for the land. Orders were issued to cut down 27,000 trees planted under social afforestation in the area for sake of project implementation.
The ACC investigation said when the workers went to chop down the trees at the behest of the Chinese company, local people and UP chairman Tarek Bin Osman objected. After negotiating, the Chinese company gave the contract to cut trees to a certain Shahadat Hossain. The investigation revealed that chairman Tarek Bin Osman and Shahadat gave only 40 per cent of Tk 14 million allocated to the owners of the trees and embezzled the remaining amount.
This correspondent called Tarek Bin Osman’s mobile several times for comment over the matter but he did not respond.
An official of the Chinese company CPP, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that although the district administration cooperates with them for the project implementation, they deal with a lot of the hassle at a local level.
Influential people pocket Tk 220m meant for the poor
A total of 144 acres of cropland was requisitioned in Kalarmarchhra union parishad for three years to build the office of the Chinese firm CCP and to store the construction materials. There was a condition that landowners would receive compensation equal to the value of the crops produced on the land each year. The compensation was fixed at Tk 220 million (22 crore).
A requisition notice to these landowners was issued in 2027-28. The probe found the real landowners were kept in the dark over the notice while cheques were issued in favour of a group of fake landowners and they withdrew the money in November-December of 2018. They kept a portion of the money and gave the rest to the group involved in corruption. When they learnt about this scam, the actual landowners formed a human chain and besieged the district administration office. No compensation money was allocated for the affected-landowners in the next two years.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, activist AKM Kaisarul Islam from Cox’s Bazar said, action was not taken against the people involved in corruption in land acquisition for important projects in Cox’s Bazar. On the contrary, the investigating official was sacked. As a result, this prevented the punishment of the corrupt and payment of compensation to the actual people who were affected. He said, this may escalate the anger among the affected people and deteriorate the law and order situation.
Reign of chairmen and agents
The ACC report said that chairman of Kalarmarchhara union Tarek Bin Osman and his lawyer brother Noman Sharif wield clout in the project area. They have created a group of brokers and demand commission of 30-40 per cent from the landowners to realise the compensation on their behalf. Locals informed chairman Tarek Bin Osman and Kutubzom union chairman Mosharrof Hossain Khokon about the demand of commission by the agents. Since the chairmen took no action, landowners went to local lawmaker Asheq Ullah Rafiq.
Chinese company CPP gave local firm M/S Ehsan Enterprise the responsibility to assess the affected landowners and salt farmers as well as damaged trees and crops beforehand. Md Ehsan, an uncle of Kalarmarchhara union chairman Tarek Bin Osman, owns Ahsan Enterprise. The CPP gave the local firm the responsibility to hand over Tk 220 million (22 crore) in compensation to the farmers. But Ehsan Enterprise sent the money to the banks accounts of the fake landowners instead of the real ones. The two chairmen, Noman Sharif and Md Ehsan, shared these money among themselves later. As the actual landowners did not get the compensation, they complained to lawmaker Asheq Ullah Rafiq again.
Compensation was to be distributed through Cox’s Bazar district administration upon completion of the process and verification of documents in several phases. The Chinese firm carried out this task. Then again, it gave the task to Ehsan Enterprise. The ACC probe raised questions on the matter saying the Chinese firm got involved in such illegal activity to capitalise the influence of the local politicians and the office of Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner abetted.
The probe report mentioned at that time lawmaker Asheq Ullah Rafiq discussed the matter with the Chinese firm, Awami League’s religious affairs secretary and Cox’s Bazar unit president Sirajul Islam and two chairman Tarek Bin Osman, chairman Mosharrof Hossain Khokon and Noman Sharif.
They met at Hotel The Cox Today in Cox’s Bazar in 17 February 2019 and gave Noman Sharif, brother of chairman Tarek Bin Osman, the responsibility to settle the issue. That means a section of embezzlers gave another section of embezzlers the responsibility to realise the compensation money.
When this correspondent contacted Asheq Ullah Rafiq via WhatsApp, the lawmaker said he is now in India on an official tour and it is his duty as a lawmaker to resolve any trouble in his constituency. He said this was a part of a conspiracy against him.
The probe said two cousins of chairman Tarek Bin Osman -- Mainul Sharif and Murtaza Ali, secured the contract to supply four vehicles to the Chinese firm using political influence. Chairman Tarek Bin Osman supplied all vehicles that the Chinese firm purchased for that project in 2020. Prior to becoming a chairman, Tarek Bin Osman was a coordinator of a firm, CILE International, that works for the contracts of the Chinese firm CPP.
About the allegation of corruption in accruing lands in Moheshkhali, chief executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan told Prothom Alo, “Infrastructure being built there in the name of development by destroying nature, is in fact the mega plan of corruption and the dismissal of Sharif Uddin made this more visible.”
“So, when we talk about protecting nature, the corrupt people see this as curbing their opportunity for corruption. Only a strong political will can stop the corruption and save nature,” she added.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf and Hasanul Banna