Anti-casino operations halted, accused start returning

Sheikh Sabiha Alam . Dhaka | Update:

Prothom Alo File Photo

The drive against illegal casinos and tender manipulation, which was highly praised last year, has been halted. Security officials said they were waiting for a nod from the top. The common people, however, are in doubt about the fate of the drive.

The operations began on 18 September last year with the arrest of Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan, organising secretary of Dhaka Metropolitan South unit of Jubo League, the youth wing of ruling Bangladesh Awami League.

The raid came to a halt apparently on 31 October that year after the arrest of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) councillor Moinul Haque.

A total of 11 people, including Dhaka Metropolitan South unit Jubo League president Ismail Hossain Chowdhury alias Samrat, were arrested in the drive.

Soon after the drive started by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) many left the country to avoid arrest. As the situation started becoming normal, Jubo League’s expelled organising secretary Mominul Haque Sayeed, former central member of the organisation Mizanur Rahman and former leader of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) Sheikh Rabiul Islam have returned home.

RAB law and media wing director Sarwar Bin Kashem told Prothom Alo that RAB were asked to conduct operations against illegal casino business. The force had carried out the order and stopped the casino business, he added.

The RAB official declined to make further comments.

Sources close to RAB top level confirmed Prothom Alo that some of those arrested disclosed names of some influential politicians, and police and government officials.

The list of those names was sent to the top authorities seeking directives, sources added, but no responses were found.

RAB and intelligence officials said they were making a new list. Those, who amassed huge assets cashing in on their involvement with the ruling party in the last decade, will be enlisted. Corrupt people in the financial sector will be enlisted separately.

The officials concerned said they were not certain that steps would be taken as per the list.

While addressing a function of Krishak League at Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital on 17 December, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “Many think we’ve stopped the operations. We’ll continue this operation for the sake of establishing good governance. Information is being collected and operations will be conducted as per information.”

 Flaw from the beginning? 

Sources said the drive was conducted for two reasons.

First, there are criticisms about two national elections held in 2014 and 2019. The ruling party brought the development activities to the fore to fend off these criticisms. But allegations of making huge amount of money against the ruling party leaders and activists were raised. So the government tried to brighten its image by arresting a section of corrupt leaders and activists.

Secondly, there had been some feud between two camps of the Awami League for long. In this context, the operations drew praise.

A high official in police said Jubo League is loyal to an influential leader of AL for many years and he has influence in police force too. It was not unknown to anybody what Dhaka South unit Jubo League president Samrat was doing.

The official said a message was given to that leader by launching drives against the Jubo League leaders including Samrat.

Sources in the intelligence agencies said names of many came to the fore during the operations but steps were not taken against them.

Bank accounts of former chairman of Jubo League Omar Faruk Chowdhury, former office secretary Anisur Rahman, former president MP Nurunnabi Chowdhury alias Shaon were frozen but no further steps were taken.

Prothom Alo File Photo

During the operations, vice president of Gendaria thana unit Awami League in Dhaka Enamul Haque and his brother Rupon Bhuiyan fled the country.

Swechhasebak League president Molla Abu Kawsar was removed from the post as his name was in discussion for casino business. There is no news that an investigation is underway against him.

When GK Shamim was produced before the court after the arrest, he first enquired about Molla Abu Kawsar.

Police also said questions have been raised about the motive of the operations.

Two police officials said the operations conducted in Mohammadpur area of the capital should not be linked to the cleanliness drive. This operation was Dhaka city election centric.

Sources at Kalabagan club said councillor of ward no. 33, Mohammad Hossain alias Sentu, was involved in casino business a few years ago. Driving him out, Krishak League leader Shafiqul Alam alias Firoz shut casino business. But he was arrested and sent to jail. A decision has been taken to cancel the registration of the club.

According to many, the drive has lost momentum due to lack of trust. For many, this operation is the result of a conflict between politicians and bureaucrats. A senior AL leader told Prothom Alo that the anti-casino drive was unplanned.

“It was an attempt to doom political leaders and activists as per the advice of bureaucrats. At first, the drives were conducted. Now it is heard that many of them are talking for separating the government from the party. Those who raised the matter do not want the veteran politicians to be in the cabinet,” the leader said.

“In fact, the drive was halted as the accused have been disclosing names of several high government officials in the investigation,” he claimed.

A councillor of the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) said the drive against the councillors started at a time when the city corporation election was knocking at the door. Many of the activists also advised him to run away then.

It is learned that GK Shamim named a significant number of government officials during the interrogation. Following this, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has summoned 11 of them.

According to the law enforcement, Shamim has claimed that he had bribed millions to Rafiqul Islam, a former chief engineer at the Public Works Department. Rafiqul was summoned to the RAB office and questioned following the allegation. He, however, was not named in the list of the 11 summoned by the ACC.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, home secretary Mostafa Kamaluddin said, the allegation that the campaign had stopped because many government officials’ names were revealed in the investigation is not true.

Such drives are an ongoing process and the ACC and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) do their work throughout the year, he added.

“There’s no chance the government officials will get exemption. An operation was conducted against casinos. If any such issue arises in future, drives would be conducted right away,” the home secretary said.

There are lot more allegations against the political leaders. Several police and RAB members have alleged that they knew which political leader was doing what. But it was not possible to take actions against them because of their connection with the top level.

A RAB official involved in the anti-casino operation told Prothom Alo, Samrat confessed to the RAB that he paid 7.5 million taka to a local leader before the elections. The leader asked for another 2.5 million after the elections.

Almost all of the persons arrested in anti-casino drives claimed to have paid millions to the political leaders.

AL joint general secretary Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif told Prothom Alo, “Investigation should be conducted against anyone involved in corruption.”

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former caretaker government adviser M Hafizuddin Khan said, “Has the campaign been abandoned? I believe so. From the very beginning the operation was unplanned. Such a scattered drive cannot be successful. Isn’t there any corruption in other sectors other than casinos? Why not conduct drives in those places?”

* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Farjana Liakat.

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