Ruling Awami League's member of parliament from Cox's Bazar Abdur Rahman Badi has been mentioned as patron of drug trade, in a list made, on the basis of reports by five state agencies.
However, the government is unwilling to take action against him as, the home minister himself argued, 'no proof' for his involvement in drug trade is found. Rather, Badi's position in the ruling party has been stronger in recent times, sources in the party said.
Badi is the MP from Cox’s Bazar-4 comprising Ukhia and Teknaf upazilas in the country's southeast part, which is considered a route for trade trafficking.
“We haven’t got any witnesses that can confirm Badi as a drug dealer. Inclusion of name [in the list] is not everything. We must have proof at hand confirming that he is a criminal,” home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told Prothom Alo.
Badi has been enlisted earlier as the number one drug dealer in the country, by the narcotics control department (DNC), which said, "Nothing could be done without his consent in this trade."
Even a home ministry report enlisted Badi as a top human trafficker. Cox's Bazar drew global media attention in 2014-15 for illegal migration by boats through risky sea routes.
He was once arrested by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
In such a context, more than one members of law enforcement agencies said the ongoing anti-drug drives may be questioned if the name of Badi is excluded from the list only for being an MP.
On such matters, the home minister said, “The ACC released him as it didn’t get evidences. How will we then take action against him?”
Asked on what basis people are being killed in ‘crossfire’ everyday, he said, “This is not crossfire. What is taking place is gunbattle. They [alleged drug traders] are opening fire on police whenever they are going to arrest them. Still we have arrested over 3,000 people.”
Following abnormal rise in use of drugs in the country, the government has decided to take actions against the culprits, according to home ministry officials. A committee was also formed in this regard.
Actions would be taken against those whose names would be confirmed in a unified list, the home minister said on Tuesday.
The government earlier decided to publish the names but backtracked on the move.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina had asked the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to take stern actions against drug use at the founding anniversary of the force on 3 May.
Till Thursday, more than 50 people were killed in what the law enforcement authorities are consistently describing as gunfights after the the anti-narcotic drive began.
“My duty is to conduct raids against drug traders, not against any person,” said RAB director general Benazir Ahmed.
However, allegations have it that the kingpins of drug trade remains outside of the reach of law enforcement.
“These godfathers remain far behind the curtain. Maybe they are 10-12 layers behind. We must not publish anything about them to reach them,” the prime minister’s political affairs adviser HT Imam said to the BBC on Wednesday.
“They will be cautious and leave the country if we publish anything about them. RAB and some detectives are active and I think they will be able to arrest the kingpins,” he added.
HT Imam observed that the real culprits are international players. “You cannot say that the real criminals are local.”
Badi also holds top spot on the list of ‘yaba' godfathers and traders for the past 10 years. Yaba is a widely used drug item that comes to the country mostly from Myanmar.
But, suddenly in March this year, a state agency dropped his name from the list. The list also included names of Badi’s five brothers and one of his cousins and nephews. A total of 1,151 people of eight upazilas of Cox’s Bazar are also on the list.
When reached for comments, MP Abdur Rahman Badi on Wednesday said, ‘If anyone can prove that I’ve even talked to any yaba trader, I’ll step down. Rather, I have been maintaining regular contact with the home minister about what can be done against drug abuse.”
When asked why he was named as a patron of drug trade time and again, he called it a propaganda of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.
“Jamaat-e-Islami has stronghold in three of the four constituencies in Cox’s Bazar. I’ve kept hold of one of the seats. This kind of gossip has been made to prevent me from contesting in election from the constituency,” he claimed.
The ruling party office bearers said Badi has already made his position stronger in the party. The top leaders of the party are now applauding him.
At a 12 February rally in Cox’s Bazar, AL general secretary Obaidul Quader said there is no substitute of Badi in the constituency.
Former MP from the constituency and upazila AL president Mohammad Ali, however, said Badi is doing the yaba trade in Teknaf with the help of 30-32 persons including his brothers and some public representatives.
The AL leader added that it would not be possible to take any action against him as long as he is an MP since such action will hamper the government’s image.
Former caretaker government adviser and human rights leader Sultana Kamal said, “If Badi’s name is on the list and he still claims himself as an innocent, he should then file a case against the government.”
“The government itself is now seeking evidence against Badi. What evidences does the government have against those who are being killed in gunfights every day. The government should specify the way of getting evidence.”
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza and Toriqul Islam