Five laptops used for NID registration have been stolen, it was ascertained on Wednesday. Four of the laptops were lifted from the Chandanaish office in 2014. No one knows when and how the other has gone missing.
In fact, the Election Commission (EC) has no record of how many laptops are actually missing from the 21 upazila or thana offices which carry out NID (National Identity) registration under the Chattogram election office.
These stolen laptops were connected to the national server, but even after they went missing no measures were taken to block them from being used for NID registration.
Officials involved in the investigation said that the laptops were functioning till last month and were used to issue all sorts of false NID cards, including for Rohingyas. One of the laptops was recovered on Monday.
A technical team of EC is now carrying out investigations in Chittagong. They said that it will not be easy to determine how many NID cards were issued with these lost laptops.
EC’s IT expert involved in the investigations, Mohammed Shahabuddin, told Prothom Alo that previously if an employee collected the relevant software from the EC office, the laptops could be used from any location. Now fingerprints are required to open the laptops so it will not be possible to work from the lost laptops.
It was only from the first week of this month that fingerprints are being used for security. Before that, a password was enough.
How it came to the forefront
Suspicions first arose when a woman named Lucky went to the Chattogram district election office on 22 August to collect her smartcard. Inquiries revealed that the woman was actually a Rohingya and had paid a bribe to get the NID.
It was also found out that office assistant Zaynal Abedin of the Double Mooring office had filched a laptop and ran a scam from his home, issuing NIDs in exchange of money.
Prothom Alo’s investigations found that this office assistant soon went on to buy a plot of land and construct a five-storey building. Till Wednesday, however, it has not been known from where Zaynal stole the laptop.
Inspector of the police’s counter terrorism unit add investigating officer of the case, Rajesh Barua, told Prothom Alo that Zaynal was being taken on three-day remand for interrogation.
Two others arrested along with him, Bijoy Das and Seema Das, were being taken on one-day remand.
EC searches for lost laptops
The EC is now looking into how many laptops have been stolen and from which offices in Chattogram.
Head of the inquiry committee formed to look into the matter of Rohingyas becoming voters, deputy secretary of the EC secretariat Mohammed Khorshed Alam, yesterday told Prothom Alo that the matter will be ascertained very shortly.
Khorshed Alam said he knew that four laptops were stolen from the Chandanaish office and a case had been filed at the time. The accused in the case are out on bail.
When asked about the latest status of the case on Wednesday, the Chandanaish police station officer-in-charge (OC) was unable to give any update.
Other than these four laptops, the district election officer Mohammed Munir Hossain Khan ascertained that another laptop was missing.
Speaking to Prothom Alo on Wednesday, he said there is no record of where this other laptop was stolen from in Chattogram. Some say it was from Panchlaish. He could not say whether the laptop retrieved from Zaynal was one of the missing five.
The Chattogram district election officer said there is no update of how many laptops there are in total at the Chattogram offices.
Two fraudulent gangs detected
According to sources in the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), so far two fraudulent gangs involved in the NID forgery have been detected. Zaynal Abedin was involved with one of them and the other was Dhaka-based. Around 20 persons involved with the EC are on the list of suspects.
Fake NID from the lost laptops
ACC, the police and EC are investigating the fake NID scam. Those involved in the investigation said that no action was taken to close down these laptops even after they went missing and so they were used for a long time to issue fake NID cards.
Earlier action would have prevented such a large number of forged NIDs from being issued.
Director general of the EC NID wing Saidul Islam told Prothom Alo, “I took over responsibility much later and so am unable to make any precise statement. I am looking into the files and hope I can come up with details in a day or two.”