The Thieves of Dhaka : A Tale of Grand Corruption in Bangladesh

Documentary Script

On the morning of 5th January 2017, a series of strange but significant events started to unfold in Bangladesh. High-ranking officers of the military intelligence, known as DGFI, called up the Chairman, Vice-chairman and Managing Director of Islami Bank Bangladesh Limited, the country’s largest private bank. Soon, all three of them were picked up from their houses by the armed DGFI convoy and brought to Dhaka Cantonment. 

Surrounded by armed military personnel, the bankers were presented with resignation letters. They were asked to sign them. They were told it was a direct order from the Prime Minister, which they could not refuse. Many people in Bangladesh picked up by the DGFI never returned home. They disappeared forever. So, the bankers had no choice. 

A few hours later, a closed-door meeting of the bank’s Board of Directors took place at Radisson Blu Dhaka Water Garden, a military-owned five-star hotel. Existing directors of the bank were replaced with new ones under the direct supervision of the DGFI operatives. One of Hasina’s oligarchs and cronies, S. Alam, became the bank’s new owner. Shahabuddin Chuppu, earlier appointed as a member of the anticorruption commission, orchestrated the whole process. Chuppu, a highly corrupt official, was further rewarded by being appointed as the President of Bangladesh in 2023.

This is how the Bangladeshi government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, operates like a Mafia by using state machinery.

Hasina and her people forcibly seized control of six more private banks in the following years. They are: 

  • Bangladesh Commerce Bank
  • Al Arafa Islami Bank
  • First Security Islami Bank
  • Union Bank
  • Global Islami Bank
  • Social Islami Bank

The corruption in Bangladesh has escalated beyond the petty corruption common in developing countries. It reached the level of grand corruption, combined with systematic and well-organised abuse of power and gross human rights violations. The current illegitimate Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has established multiple kleptocratic Mafia networks involving: 

  • military intelligence, DGFI 
  • police, RAB, civil bureaucracy 
  • crony capitalists and 
  • her family members

In order to enjoy impunity, Sheikh Hasina has seized absolute control of the judiciary, curbed media and free speech, dismantled the parliamentary process, and systematically eroded all democratic institutions. 

This level of corruption is unprecedented in Bangladesh’s recent history. It is only comparable to the corruption between 1972 and 1975, during the rule of Sheikh Mujib, father of Sheikh Hasina. The grand corruption of that time is well-documented in global media, including the Far Eastern Economic Review, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, and so on.  

In January 2009, Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh through secret negotiations between the then-military-backed unelected government and the hegemonic power India. Since then, she has clung to power through rigged elections, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and blatant usage of the judiciary and administration. Due to her government’s widespread corruption, Bangladesh’s foreign debt skyrocketed to 99 billion US dollars by June 2023, which is a massive 322 percent increase from the 23.5 billion in June 2009 when she took control. 

Corruption and thievery lie at the heart of her authoritarian and fascist rule, hidden behind a false narrative of national development. This has led to high inflation and a silent famine in Bangladesh. While Hasina presents the country as an economic success story with megaprojects, in reality, these projects essentially serve as conduits for collecting massive commissions and laundering billions of dollars overseas.

For instance, Hasina is currently overseeing the construction of a nuclear power plant with Russian collaboration. This project poses a severe environmental risk that endangers a densely populated area. The government has estimated the cost of this 2400-megawatt nuclear plant to be US 13.34 billion dollars. In contrast, a similar 2000-megawatt nuclear plant was recently built in Tamilnadu, India, for US 6.7 billion dollars, half of the Bangladeshi project cost. 

In another instance, the per kilometre cost of Dhaka Payra Port Railway is budgeted at 2,500 million Bangladeshi taka. In contrast, similar railways in India cost a maximum of 170 million, and in Pakistan, a maximum of 150 million taka per kilometre. Building a railway usually costs around 230 to 310 million taka according to global standards. But in Bangladesh, the government is spending eight to ten times more than this usual range. 

This unparalleled level of corruption persists across all mega projects in Bangladesh under the Hasina regime, including the Padma Bridge, Karnaphuli Tunnel, broadcast satellites, Airbus acquisition, and various rail and highway constructions.

In addition to grand corruption in megaprojects, this Mafia network, along with its external affiliates, is linked to one of the biggest bank robberies in 2016, known as the Bangladesh Bank Heist, where 101 million US dollars was transferred to different countries by hacking the central bank system.

In 2017, they were accused of the Bangladesh Bank Gold Scam, where they tampered with 963 kg of gold in the vault of the country’s central bank. Then, in September 2023, more than 55 kg of gold disappeared from a locker in the customs warehouse at Dhaka International Airport. People wonder how thefts like these can happen from supposedly secure places.

These incidents and various other major state-supported scams have repeatedly shaken the country’s economy. Some of the major financial scams under the Hasina regime that have been reported so far are: 

  • Share market and stock exchange manipulation of 8 billion US dollars in 2010 and 2011 
  • Padma Bridge corruption and withdrawal of the World Bank from the project in 2011
  • Destiny Group scam of over 30 billion Bangladeshi taka in 2012 
  • Hallmark – Sonali Bank loan scam of over 43 billion taka in 2012 
  • Bismillah Group scam of 12 billion taka in 2013
  • Farmers Bank scam of 1.6 billion taka in 2014 
  • BASIC Bank scam of over 45 billion taka in 2015 
  • Crescent Group – Janata Bank Loan Scam of over 34 billion taka in 2019 
  • Agrani Bank loan scam of over 1.5 billion taka in 2022 

Sheikh Hasina initiated the so-called Quick Rental power plant scheme, wherein selected cronies received government approval and funding to establish small-capacity electricity plants at exorbitant costs without international tender. As Sheikh Hasina was aware of the illegality of the scheme, she enacted an indemnity ordinance to protect corrupt businessmen, government officials and herself from future scrutiny and legal action. 

Hasina keeps her power and control over this kleptocracy by giving a free hand to government officials to indulge in widespread corruption. Civil and military bureaucrats are rewarded with promotions, high salaries, luxury houses, and expensive cars. However, the main beneficiaries of the corrupt system are Hasina’s immediate family members and high-ranking political leaders of the ruling party, the Bangladesh Awami League. 

Among the oligarchs in the nexus, the influential adviser to the fascist Prime Minister Salman F Rahman, crony capitalist S Alam, Aziz Khan and Ahmed Akbar Sobhan are notable. Notorious business corporations like the Beximco, Bashundhara, Hamim, Summit, S Alam, Meghna, and Mohammadi groups are integral to this corruption network. 

Sheikh Hasina runs her family like a Mafia queen. Her son Sajeeb Wajed Joy, daughter Saima Wajed Putul, sister Sheikh Rehana, and nephew Redwan Boby Mujib are important linchpins in the network to plunder national wealth. Other members of the Sheikh family involved in the corruption are Sheikh Helal, Sheikh Selim, Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, Abul Hasnat, Nixon Chowdhury, Sheikh Fazle Shams Parash and Tarique Ahmed Siddique. 

Sheikh Hasina and her associates hide the looted money by investing in properties worldwide, saving in Swiss banks, and laundering them to other tax haven countries. They have accumulated billions of dollars in locations such as Dubai, Cyprus, the West Indies, Haiti, India, China, and Russia. Corrupt Awami League political leaders, police, army officers, and government officials have invested in properties in countries like the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore. 

The Washington-based organisation Global Financial Integrity revealed that an estimated 8.27 billion US dollars per year was illegally transferred from Bangladesh between 2009 and 2018. This fact is substantiated by the 2021 annual report of the Swiss National Bank and a report from the US Tax Justice Network. 

The systematic corruption of Hasina, her family members and the members of her Mafia gang extends beyond the domestic borders, posing a threat to global security. It is now crucial for the world to focus on addressing and combating this grand corruption, aided and backed by the governments of India, China and Russia. Measures such as enforcing the Global Magnitsky Act, visa sanctions, and trade sanctions are crucial to curb this grand corruption in Bangladesh and prevent the spread of kleptocracy in the region.

Sheikh Hasina is now in the process of prolonging her kleptocratic rule for five more years by conducting another farcical, one-party election scheduled for 7 January 2024. It is the responsibility of the democratic world to stop Sheikh Hasina and bring her entire coterie to justice according to international law. 

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