Friday, July 20, 2007

Extortion Case against Sheikh Hasina

Dr. ABDUL MOMEN

THE government has not submitted any case against Sheikh Hasina yet. She has been arrested and imprisoned for indefinite period to prepare a charge-sheet against her, as per the Law Advisor of the military-backed government, Mr. Mainul Hosein. The judge did not entertain any bail petition, instead ordered to produce her before the Court after 30 days. She was taken to jail from the Court in an indecent way. The Law Advisor further stated that unless she was arrested and taken into custody, she would be absconding and therefore, as per law, it was necessary to detain her to prepare a charge sheet [in present day Bangladesh many defendants of murders are allowed to move free even they are allowed to go abroad freely].

The Extortion Case: Background
Sheikh Hasina made many statements asking the interim government to return powers to an elected government quickly and the government did not like those criticisms. The last one was a bomb shell...she stated that the DGFI (Bangladesh military intelligence) is involved in breaking up the political parties and she wanted to know their budget. No wonder, she hit the most sensitive organization and therefore, she must be punished!!

Earlier in last May she came to visit her son and daughter in the U. S. and made few comments. The government did not like those and they therefore banned her return to her own country. As she was determined to return home, a businessman named Tajul Islam Faruq, Country Director of the Westmont Ltd., Energy Company was arrested and was taken into security interrogations.

First Attempt to lodge extortion case against Hasina
Mr. Faruq hurriedly lodged an extortion case of Taka 3 crore (30 million) against Sheikh Hasina with a view to stop her return home. He stated that he took the money in cash in a brief case to the Prime Minister's office and handed over the brief case to her. As the Bangladesh Prime Minister's Office is highly secured and each items are routinely checked many times in a series of checking posts and each appointment are recorded and meetings are video-taped, the government failed to find any collaboration of the event. Moreover, it was determined that a bag of Taka 3 crore (in 500 taka denominations) would weigh over 100 kg that is very difficult to carry by hand. Once Faruq's case did not hold water, they arrested two other businessmen, one Mr. Azam J. Chowdhury and the other, Mr. Nur Ali and they lodged extortion complaints against Sheikh Hasina.

The Second Case
When Azam Chowdhury, a businessman [Chairman & Managing Director of East Coast Group, a fast growing group engaged in International Trading, Manufacturing, Power Engineering, Blending lubricants, LPG Terminal, Mines & Minerals, Information Technology, Real Estate, including investments in Banks, Finance, Leasing, Insurance, etc] was taken into custody by the Security Forces [that are judge, jury and executioner of extra judicial killings in Bangladesh], he submitted a complaint stating that he paid $5.8 million (Taka 2.99 crore) to Sheikh Hasina's cousin, Sheikh Selim, a Health Minister in her cabinet. Mr. Chowdhury reportedly has been absconding since his submission. As per media reports, he further alleged that Sheikh Selim threatened him that unless he pays him the amount, he would get his contract (to build a power plant) cancelled by Prime Minister Hasina. The contract was never cancelled and his office paid Mr. Selim with bank checks in 8 instalments. Sheikh Selim who is also under government custody reportedly confessed in secret interrogation (edited versions of CDs of the secret interrogations have widely been distributed but government officials disowned them) after 'bottle treatment' (inhuman interrogation techniques) that he paid the money to Hasina's younger sister Sheikh Rehana and only in cash. Rehana lives in London, UK. Both Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana denied any knowledge of it.

Since Sheikh Selim, 1st cousin of Sheikh Hasina reportedly received the money in the name of Hasina, therefore, she has been arrested for 'extortion'. Is this a new face of Bangladesh legal system? Will it lead the nation to a new height or questionable outcomes?

Sheikh Hasina stated that she never ever received any money neither through extortion nor through bribe. She further stated that at times many business people contributed money to her party fund or to Bangabandhu Foundation, a philanthropic organization mostly with checks. She helps distressed people from that fund. All the monies that she received while speaking abroad at various universities were sent to that fund as well.

Why Sheikh Hasina has to go?
Unless Sheikh Hasina goes, military or techno-bureaucratic governments cannot rule the country smoothly nor could a 'National Government' comprising military, politicians, civil society, journalists and technocrats be safely established. Therefore, politicians those that have marginal followings or civil society or opinion leaders and civil-military bureaucrats that hardly reach common people or willing to take risks prefer to dump her and dump her for good. Secondly, she has both good and bad; her mouth is wide open, she likes her family but kept them away from Bangladesh politics and she is never afraid of speaking out for common people, the weak and the poor. She is a symbol of democracy and a torch bearer of the rights of the common people, the have-nots and their welfare. She initiated many progressive programs, for example, old-age pension, Mukti-judda batha (allowance), free education for girls, rehabilitation for Tokai (street children), set up the SAARC Fund for the victims of trafficking of women and children into slave like servitude, and signed the Water-Sharing Agreement with India and the Peace Deal with Chittagong Hill Tract and achieved near self-sufficiency in food production. She had the least corrupt government and her record of economic growth is the highest in Bangladesh till 2006. She maintained lowest inflation rate during her tenure out of her sensitivity to common people. She opened the electronic media, the private TV and the telecommunications including the GrameenPhone that brought many positive changes. As she had popular support, she was not weak and subservient either to national or international interest or pressure groups. Like all human beings she had weaknesses but rectified them when approached, for example, Gono Bhaban and the agreement with the Khilafat Party.

Why Good Opportunities in Bangladesh Somehow Turn Into Nightmares?
In 2001 when the Khaleda Zia got single majority unlike the AL, people expected better performance. Unfortunately, it reigned over the worst government that destroyed most of the nation's institutions and brought disgrace to politicians and politics. When former Chief Justice M. A. Hasan declined to take the charge of the Chief Advisor (CA) under public pressure, people hoped that a non-partisan CA would be installed. Instead they ended up with a worse choice, Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed, a highly partisan and ethically immoral CA. When the 1st Voter List under the partisan Election Commission (EC) was declared 'null and void' by the nation's High Court, people hoped to have a fair voter list. But alas! The new one ended up with over 13 million ghost voters. The people of Bangladesh desired to have a 'qualitative change in Bangladesh politics and government' and with the coming of the military-backed interim government, they breathe a sigh of relief. But the new manipulation and reform drama that are being staged is creating doubts among the people. People have started losing their faith and therefore, they want the interim government to hold a 'free, fair, non-violent and credible election' by January 2008.

The interim government did many commendable jobs and it reconstituted the EC, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Public Service Commission (PSC) and started a jihad against corruption that was imperative. The political parties needed a real shake up to correctly realize their faults and greed. However since corruption jihad is becoming one-sided, and no institutional reform are in the offing yet unlike South Korea or Singapore, people are doubtful of its sustainability. Moreover, corruption cases are discharged in a way that tantamount to kangaroo courts. For example, Gias Uddin Al-Mamun, a close friend of Tareq Rahman, son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and a businessman by profession was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment as a loaded pistol was found on his living room sofa on March 26, 2007. He was arrested on January 16 and was under government custody till the loaded pistol was found. People believe it was placed by security forces. He also got another 3 years of jail sentence as he failed to submit his income and wealth statements while he was under military custody. Another former Minister has been sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment for keeping 4 half-empty bottles of liquor belonging to his foreign born son-in-law that was visiting Bangladesh during 1/11. Such verdicts provide reasons for questioning. Unless transparency, judicial fairness and justice are uphold in the corruption cases, this great opportunity for a change would be lost and the nation will suffer.

Following Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf's strategy, the interim government initially tried (1) to exile both Begums; Begum Zia of the BNP and Begum Hasina of the AL party. Once that strategy failed, they (2) tried to form a new party hoping that in the process, Hasina's AL and Zia's BNP would be weaken. But that did not work up to expectation. (3) In order to oust them from party leaderships, they therefore approached a few politicians of the AL and the BNP parties, many of whom are reportedly corrupt or facilitated corruption (BNP's Mannan Bhuiyan doled out maximum amount of grants to party operatives). Since corrupt politicians are vulnerable, they listened to them to avoid jail and submitted reform proposals principally aiming at removal of their two top leaders. Since such strategy known as 'Minus Two" is also finding difficulties especially in the case of the AL, therefore, the government is now trying to create 10 more criminal cases against Sheikh Hasina in order to disqualify her in the next elections (in Bangladesh under duress or payment, witnesses and false documents could easily be manipulated by government or powerful] The government knows that Hasina cannot be brought or sold neither she can be tamed since she has the spirit of her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of independent and sovereign Bangladesh.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has asked both Sheikh Hasina and Begum Zia to submit their wealth and income statements for the last 60 years by next Monday, and if they fail to do it correctly, they will get 3 years imprisonment each. This should be a warning call to all citizens of Bangladesh to keep their life's wealth and income statements always ready and fresh!!!

Question is: will Hasina's departure bring good for the country? Her father's departure or murder did not bring good for the country. It neither helped achieving her father's dream, a golden Bengal, where rights of all people would be guaranteed, where economic deprivation and injustice would be a matter of the past. However, her father's killing helped Hasina to take the leadership role of the oldest party of Bangladesh, the AL. Will it repeat now? Will this arrest help her son Joy Wazed to get into politics? Will her arrest pave the demise of multi-party democracy in Bangladesh and/or will it lead it to a non-democratic country like most of the Muslim majority countries? Will it unite her party and the nation, and will it make her a real leader like her father who was arrested by Pakistan army as he was uncompromising on the rights of people and their economic welfare? Jailed Mujib was much more powerful than free Mujib. Will history repeat itself again? #

Dr. Abdul Momen, a professor of economics and business management, Boston, USA. He could be reached at: Sylhet@Verizon.net

Boston, USA, July 17, 2007