A court in Bangladesh found Tarique Rahman and his wife Zubaida Rhaman guilty of amassing undisclosed income and concealing property information has brought the spotlight back on the debilitating leadership crisis that plagued the hardline Opposition alliance since the current acting chief took the helm of the party from London.
Outraged at the verdict while Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) backed supporters went on a rampage on the court premises, a look at the testimonies of FBI officials and a series of cables sent by former US diplomats over “money laundering” and “egregious and flagrant corruption” as evidenced in separate verdicts centring a raft of graft cases against Tarique send a blow to the portrayal of ‘innocent party chief” vociferously peddled by BNP leader in the run up to the verdict.
With his latest conviction, Zubaida has been sentenced for the first time while Tarique has been sentenced for the fifth time, a manifestation of BNP current acting chief’s indulgence into a world of crime and corruption, mostly during the last tenure when her mother, in league with radical Jamaat-e-Islami, was at the helm of the country between 2001 and 2006, says observers.
Of the five sentences, Tarique has been sentenced to life imprisonment in the high profile August 21 grenade attack case as grenades were thrown at an anti-terror rally ostensibly aimed at physical liquidation of then opposition chief Sheikh Hasina, a plot endorsed by Tarique himself in collusion with militants and while the attackers were later ensured safe passage from the country. The attack saw at least 24 Awami League activists dead, with Sheikh Hasina escaping narrowly with ear injuries.
During that rule, Tarique has emerged as the heir apparent in BNP, opened up a parallel and alternative powerhouse called Hawa Bhaban that later earned the notoriety of becoming a place where “underhand hefty commission” wee fixed up, a pre-requisite for getting green signal to business deals, let alone “the chilling plot for 21st august grenade attack to wipe out Sheikh Hasina” reportedly endorsed there with militants in attendance.
Importantly, these cases were brought by an interim caretaker government that took charge of the country between 2007 and 2008 following the BNP’s departure from power. Now BNP, in its bid to overthrow the government, remained hell-bent on reverting to the caretaker system but call out these cases as not grounded on facts, which observers believe further exposed a hypocrite stance on the part of the party.
“If you can not endorse these cases against your leader pressed by then caretaker system, how can you demand for the same system,, the denial of BNP leaders in accepting cases against Tarique clearly shows BNP’s demand for a caretaker to take part in election rings hollow”, added Ajoy Das Gupta.
It seems the last week street violence that saw at least 31 buses vandalised or torched in different parts allegedly by BNP men ahead of the verdict indicates their call for a caretaker system largely stands as a “decoy”, an alibi to foil the trial process against Tarique even though the caretaker government lodged the case.
Why this latest conviction
On September 26, 2007, country’s anti-graft watchdog filed the case against the couple and Zubaida’s mother Syeda Iqbal Mand Banu, on charges of amassing assets worth Tk 4.82 crore through illegal means and concealing the information of Tk 2.16 crore in their wealth statements.
According to the latest verdict, officials dug out vouchers, cashbooks, ledgers and audit reports and revealed that becoming a daily’s owner Tarique owned over Tk 4.15 crore against an investment of over Tk 1.74 crore and concealed information about 250 shares of a Group in his wealth statement.
On June 26 last year, the HC declared Tarique and Zubaida “fugitives” and rejected their writ petitions challenging the filing of the graft case. The HC also withdrew the stay order on the case. It was also mentioned in the case statement that Tarique, his wife and daughter own land and three Fixed Deposit Receipts (FDR) but the wealth did not match Tarique’s actual income.
How Tarique fled Bangladesh, his exit become bargain chip for BNP’s participation in polls
A report by BBC Bangla reveals amid the imprisonment of Tarique and his brother, Khaleda Zia made a hard bargain with then caretaker system and placed condition of release of his sons to ensure BNP’s participation in the polls took place in 2008.
As the top echelon of then administration opened up a bargain with his mother, the release of Tarique topped the agenda indicating the fate of the party hinged on the release of the two brothers, a classic tale of dynastic politics regardless of the litany of charges of corruption and blatant patronisation of militancy reportedly brought against Tarique.
As the government then caved in the face of the caretaker system, Tarique later managed to get out of the prison.
Faced with a slew of corruption charges, Tarique later fled the country upon submission of an undertaking assuring of not getting involved in politics.
Since he left for London in 2008, Tarique continued to live that “fugitive” life for over two decades and now has been leading the party. In between the time, out of state power, the acting chief of BNP has been involved in a series of crimes, including inciting party cadres to unleash a grisly spell of firebombing.
Ahead of the last national election, Tarique was reportedly accused of pocketing a huge sum of money to allow party nomination from aspirants who sought BNP’s endorsement in participating last national election.
Convicted corrupt criminal can run BNP, party constitution amended
In its national council in March 2016, the BNP deleted section 7 of its charter that barred bankrupt, insane and corrupt people from becoming a party member or holding any party post. It also prevented such people from getting party nominations to contest the Parliamentary election.
People were convicted under the Collaborator Order 1972 in the run-up to the conviction of Tarique and his mother in corruption cases, ostensibly to make headway to allow convicted criminals to run the party.
Previously only the chairperson post could be elected. “Now the constitution has been amended so that the committee can also elect the party’s senior vice-chairman,” BNP’s secretary Mirza Fakhrul added back then, triggering backlash from anti-graft campaigners.
Months back, over BNP’s pledge to fight corruption, Dr Iftekharuzzaman has said that keeping Begum Khaleda and Tarique – who have been sentenced by the court – in BNP’s top leadership “contradicts” the party’s 27-point outline for state reform, which includes stance against corruption, and is a sign of “moral decay”.
FBI testimony against Tarique
In a first in Bangladesh’s history, an FBI agent flown from US and testified in another money-laundering case filed against Tarique Rahman and his business partner Giasuddin Al Mamun.
Debra Laprevotte, a supervisory special agent of the FBI, narrated before a Dhaka court how she had tracked down the money allegedly laundered by BNP Senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman and Mamun to a bank account in Singapore.
This was the first time Tarique, elder son of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, has been convicted and handed down punishment by a court in one of the 19 cases filed against him since 2007.
How Tarique coterie led Bangladesh champion in corruption
During that last stint of BNP and Jamaat, the youngest nation in south asia became synonymous with graft as the nation became the champion in Transparency International (TI) ’s corruption perception index (CPI) in 2005 for the fifth consecutive year, a report in the country’s leading daily reads.
The reason reportedly attributed to such downfall of the country was Tarique and his brother “made fat cuts from business deals” that undercut substantial progress for many years.
Indian conglomerate Tata in 2005 cancelled USD 3 billion deal after Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Tarique Rahman placed a bribery deal to the Indian company, according to media reports.
Another key feature in high-profile corruption scams against Tarique was rampant graft and gobbling up of public funds meant to develop the power sector.
An old interview of Tarique where he told “people should not expect power in both home and shopping malls simultaneously” projected by Awami League online activists.
“My own office is hit by power outages every day for five to six hours – for a country like Bangladesh it is completely unrealistic and even a luxury on part of the countrymen to expect power supply both at home and in shopping malls at the same time…. Any plan to bring in the entire population under electricity coverage is nothing but an illusion for any party in the country to dream, announce and achieve.” Tarique can be heard.
An unholy nexus of a handful of local businesses overseen at the behest of Tarique by his then closest associate Giasuddin Al Mamun reportedly gobbled up two-thirds of the money earmarked from this sector during the 5-year period of the BNP-led alliance government and siphoned it off the country, according to media reports.
Despite tens of billions of takas (Tk 200 billion according to some estimates) being pumped in during this period to meet the power crisis, the country saw the addition of a mere 80MW, according to media reports.
How Tarique’s corruption threatened US interest in Bangladesh
The US embassy in Dhaka has three key priorities for Bangladesh: democratisation, development, and denial of space to terrorists. “Tarique’s audaciously corrupt activities jeopardise all three,” what a former US diplomat observed about Tarique.
James F Moriarty, the former US ambassador, sent a confidential cable on November 3, 2008, to Washington and WikiLeaks published it on August 30 this year.
He cited several examples of Tarique’s major corruption as he described his worries in the cable about the possible impact of giving him access into the US.
Tarique’s corrupt practices have had deleterious effects on the US interests, Moriarty wrote, adding, “His antics have weakened public confidence in government and eroded the stability of democratic institutions.”
“Tarique’s well-established reputation for flouting the rule of law directly threatens US financial assistance goals directed toward reforming legal codes, strengthening good governance and halting judicial abuses.”
The bribery, embezzlement, and culture of corruption that the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s elder son has helped create and maintain in Bangladesh has directly and irreparably undermined US businesses, resulting in many lost opportunities, Moriarty wrote.
Minorities appalled at Tarique’s recent call for taking to street
Advocate, rights activist and a leader of the minority community, Rana Dasgupta, expressed concern over Tarique’s call to decide the future of the country on the streets.
Considering the violent attacks orchestrated by BNP in the past, “this current threat by Tarique is deeply concerning for the minorities in Bangladesh,” he said, adding that “any political party that complies with the basic tenets of democracy should have refrained from issuing such threats publicly.”
Recalling the trauma of gang rape and subsequent stigmatisation during the BNP-Jamaat Government in 2001, Purnima Rani Shil labelled BNP leader Tarique Rahman “a disease.”
Tarique and August 21 grenade attack
According to the verdict, it was a well-orchestrated plan, executed through abuse of state power, to physically liquidate the then Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, when grenades were exploded at an anti-terror rally. And all the accused, including Tarique Rahman and former top intelligence officials, were found guilty and handed down various punishments for the bombing that killed 24 people and injured scores. Reportedly, the attacks were carried out by a group of militants and afterwards, they were ensured safe passage to flee the country.