Shafiqul Islam was elected MP unopposed in 2014. He became district Awami League’s general secretary in the same year. Earlier, MP and his three brothers would live in a two-storied building of their paternal house in Kandivitua area. MP's two brothers now live at the house.
Locals said, MP Shafiqul’s father Hasan Ali Sardar was a small contractor. He lived a fairly well-off life. Their family did not have much except the two-storied building and some agricultural lands. Hasan Ali’s sons did not have any visible source of income. Hasan Ali died nearly six years ago. The family’s fortune turned suddenly after Shafiqul was elected a lawmaker. Analysing his affidavit, it was found that Shafiqul’s wealth increased 26 times while his wife’s, who happens to be a ‘housewife’, wealth increased 41 times.
Not only in the country, Shafiqul owns a luxurious house at Scarborough town near Toronto in Canada. The house was bought in the beginning of last year. Shafiqul’s close aides and local AL leaders said the house was bought for over 1.7 million Canadian dollars which is equivalent to around Tk 120 million. Leaders of Awami League in Natore have the picture, document and money receipt of the house.
Shafiqul’s wife lives in Canada with their children. They have not come to Bangladesh after construction of the new house in Natore. MP Shafiqul lives alone at Natore house. He went to Canada on 16 September. People close to him said Shafiqul would stay there around a month.
Apart from luxurious houses, Shafiqul’s family members own eight buses named ‘Sameer Choice’ and ‘Saleha’. They also have two trucks.
Four lawmakers of Natore and four important AL leaders of the district in a letter to prime minister Shiekh Hasina complained about Shafiqul's ill-gotten money and nepotism. They alleged that five flats were bought on Dhaka’s Abadar Ring Road in the names of MP Shafiqul’s wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. The AL leaders also complained that Shafiqul owns 15-16 bighas of land in Natore’s Hatimara beel (wetland) and disclosed and undisclosed wealth in the USA, Malaysia and Thailand.
This correspondent talked to MP Shafiqul over phone. Regarding his house in Natore, the MP said, “I’m not the son of any beggar. I run a contracting business. Construction of the house is disclosed in my tax file.”
About his brother’s house, Shafiqul said, “He has a transport business. He built the house from that income.”
He termed the allegation of amassing ill-gotten wealth as ‘propaganda’ against him. MP Shafiqul claimed, "My father gave me all his money before death."
Asked if he has Canadian citizenship or residency permit, Shafiqul said, “I don’t have such permission. My children are studying there and my wife looks after them. They don’t have citizenship either.”
He said his wife and daughter work in Canada and the house was bought there on loan.
Shafiqul’s brother Sajedul Islam claimed that he earned money through cattle and fish farm.
He also said 10 houses can be built by the wealth they inherited from their father.
Transformation of Shafiqul
Shafiqul Islam first held public office after he was elected upazila parishad chairman in 2009. The affidavit he submitted at the time showed his yearly income at Taka 200,000. His profession was shown as contractor and supplier. His wealth totaled over Tk 1.4 million. His wife had wealth over Tk 450,000. They did not have any cars back then except motorbikes. He did not have any house in his name either.
Shafiqul resigned from upazila chairman post after he had got Awami League’s nomination before 2014 general election. According to the affidavit he submitted before the election, Shafiqul’s tangible and intangible wealth increased to over Tk 3.2 million. He then owned a car and his wife’s wealth increased to Tk 1.09 million.
MP Shafiqul became the district’s sole controller after becoming MP and AL’s general secretary in 2014. His wealth also started increasing simultaneously.
Shafiqul’s wealth skyrocketed to over Tk 38.3 million in the affidavit he submitted before the 2018 general election. Of the amount, Tk 31.5 million were cash, bank deposit or savings certificate. In comparison with 2009, his wealth increased 26 times in 12 years.
According to the affidavit submitted in 2018, the amount of tangible and intangible assets of his wife was worth Tk 17.5 million. Most of which he shows as investments in cash, bank deposits and savings certificates. A SUV car was added anew in the affidavit. The wealth of the wife has increased 41 times in 12 years. According to the affidavit, his wife is a housewife. How did her wealth increase so much? The lawmaker claimed his wife has a business. Asked about the business, he refused to speak about it and said, "Everything is declared in the tax file.”
How can an MP accumulate such a huge amount of wealth in such a short time without a visible source of income? This correspondent visited Natore from 21 to 25 September and spoke to various persons to find out the matter. According to the findings, after Shafiqul Islam became an MP and general secretary of the district Awami League, he took the control of government contracts, transport sector, government food programme, lease of Jalmahal, appointment, transfer and promotion of employees of educational institutions.
Several district Awami League leaders wishing not to be named told Prothom Alo that Shafiqul's family members have been amassing huge assets for seven years.
Brothers, brothers-in-law control various sectors
Mir Amirul Islam alias Jahan, brother-in-law of the MP, got a contract to build a building for the Water Development Board. On 24 May, his son Mir Nafiul Islam beat up Abu Raihan, an executive engineer of the Water Development Board, for questioning the quality of work. Abu Raihan later filed a case in this regard. Nafiul was released on bail after a month in jail.
The executive engineer did not come to Natore after that incident and attended office from Rajshahi. Engineer Abu Raihan told Prothom Alo that he is no longer in charge of Natore. He filed an assault case and the rest was the responsibility of the police, he added.
According to the investigation, Amirul Islam and his two brothers Mir Habibul Islam and Mir Shariful Islam were already involved in the contracting business. However, after Shafiqul became MP in 2014, the family got contracts worth around Tk 3.6 billion in the district. Some of the projects have been completed while remaining are underway. There are allegations of slow pace of work, not completing work on time and poor work quality.
According to Roads and Highways Department, Amirul’s family got contract of a project for road expansion and drainage from Boro Harishpur to Bonbelghoria bypass worth Tk 520 million. The work that generally takes one and a half years for completion has not been finished in five years. In the meantime, 80 per cent of the payment has been collected. On the other hand, the part that is completed has already broken and developed potholes here and there.
RHD executive engineer Abdur Rahim told Prothom Alo that the contractor has not submitted the work yet.
He said, the remaining payments will not be cleared without reconstruction of the faulty work.
Amirul has also got work worth Tk 1.55 billion for the Natore section of the Natore-Bogura highway expansion project. According to the agreement, the contractor is to buy soil from somewhere else and fill the road. But they removed the soil from the side of the road with a digging machine and filled the road with that soil. This has created a risk of highway collapse. Apart from this, it will be difficult to expand the highway in the future.
Natore senior judicial magistrate Abu Sayeed, on his own initiative, ordered the opening of case documents. The matter is now pending.
Amirul's contracting company has built the Natore district council auditorium cum community centre at a cost of around Tk 160 million. District council sources say the AC installed in the auditorium does not work properly. The power substation that has been installed is not capable of running the auditorium. Farhad Hossain, chief executive officer of the district council, admitted to Prothom Alo that there were problems with the AC and power system.
It is learnt that the MP's brother-in-law's family has got contracts of several projects under several agencies including RHD, Public Works Department, Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and Health Engineering Department. Amirul Islam claimed that he got the contracts on his own merits.
Another brother-in-law of the MP, Sajedur Rahman alias Bura Chowdhury, used to take lease of government waterbodies for fish farming. Since Shafiqul became MP, he took control of most of the government water bodies.
It is found that, Sajedul Islam alias Sagar, the younger brother of the MP, became the general secretary of the Transport Owners' Association forcefully in 2016.
According to transport sources, buses run from Dhaka to different districts of North Bengal via Natore. Besides, buses ply from Natore to different districts including Dhaka, Rangpur, Bogura and Rajshahi. Some Tk 220 to 500 is collected from each bus. Every day Tk 400,000 to 500,000 is collected from this sector. It is all under the control of the MP's brothers. Sajedul Islam claimed to Prothom Alo that the leaders themselves paid some money to run the association. They did not collect any money for one and a half years.
His other brother Sirajul Islam is also involved in the transport business. He is accused of controlling the government's rice and wheat procurement programmes. He became general secretary of the district sports body last year. For a long time he was the convener of the housie and gambling committee.
Various government departments and political sources in Natore said, there were no opposition and they have quite a strong hold in the AL which helped the family members of MP Shafiqul to control various money-making projects without any hindrance.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, SHUJAN, Citizen for good governance, told Prothom Alo that it is unusual for an MP and his family members to increase their wealth in this way.
“This is not possible without taking illegal advantage. Now the main attraction of politics is illegal profiteering. That is why politicians try so hard to become lawmakers and secure positions of the ruling party. Such incidents are happening not only in Natore, but all over the country,” he said further.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat and Galib Ashraf.