Cases After Casino Drive: End of probe ever elusive



More than a year after a crackdown was launched on casinos, the ACC has yet to complete the investigations in any of the 22 cases filed against ruling party men, among others, over the illegal business.

ACC investigators blame the pandemic and delay in official communications with foreign banks about laundered money for their failure in finishing the probe.

In the drive that began in September last year, the Rapid Action Battalion arrested several leaders of different affiliated bodies of the Awami League. Some of the big fish held included Ismail Hossain Chowdhury Samrat, then secretary of Dhaka South Jubo League.

Later, the ACC filed 22 cases against 24 people, including 10 leaders of AL wings, four ward councillors, four businessmen and two government officials.  In the cases, they were accused of accumulating hundreds of crores of Taka beyond known sources of income and laundering them.

But charge-sheet has not been filed against any of them.

“Many of our officials are infected with Covid-19. The pandemic has also restricted our movement which is necessary for investigating the cases,” said an ACC director, who is supervising the investigation into the 22 cases filed last year.

Besides, delay in getting official confirmation from different banks abroad about laundered money is also affecting the investigation in some cases, said the official, wishing not to be named.

“We have information from the [foreign] sources and they gave us that information on condition of keeping it confidential. The information is genuine, but we can’t use it in court. We need the official confirmation,” the director said.

The official, however, expressed optimism that they would be able to submit the charge sheet in a case or two by next month.

Talking to The Daily Star, an ACC investigator said they have traced hundreds of crores of Taka in different foreign bank accounts of Samrat, online casino kingpins Selim Prodhan and Enamul Huq Arman.

He, however, declined to disclose the details.

“Since we’ve got the confirmation, we’re now making Mutual Legal Assistance Request [MLAR] to the countries concerned to get information on their assets in a formal way. We’ll reveal more information to you [journalists] once we get the response,” he said.

Anti-casino operations by law enforcement agencies started on September 18 last year when Rab arrested expelled Dhaka South Jubo League organising secretary Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan.

Following Khaled’s arrest, the law enforcement agency arrested businessman GK Shamim, Samrat, Selim, Arman and different other leaders of the Jubo League, the Krishak League and the AL in the capital.

Samrat was arrested by Rab on October 6 along with his close aide Arman in Cumilla.

Soon after their arrests for their alleged involvement in running illegal casinos, the ACC opened an enquiry into their illegal assets on September 30.

The anti-graft watchdog has so far found that Samrat laundered over Tk 200 crore, earned through casinos, to banks in Singapore and Malaysia. The ACC has made MLAR to those countries, said its sources.

On November 12 last year, the ACC filed a case against Samrat for amassing wealth worth Tk 2.94 crore through illegal means.

Talking to this correspondent, an ACC official shed light on the progress in investigating Selim Prodhan. The official said they have detected shady transactions involving Selim’s savings account with a private bank’s Motijheel branch.

Analysing the account’s data, investigators found transactions of Tk 61 crore in 11 months in 2013. “The money came from an illegal source and most of the amount was laundered to Thailand,” said the ACC official.

ACC sources said the graft watchdog had sent letters the authorities in Japan, Singapore, Thailand and the USA to find out where the money was laundered. In response, they got information on transactions made to Thailand and the USA.

Selim had illegal transactions of over Tk 20 crore with Bangkok Bank and Siam Commercial Bank in Thailand, said the sources.

The Daily Star could not contact the authorities of the banks for comments.

Sources also said Selim used to play at the casinos on a regular basis at Park MGM, formerly Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, in Las Vegas in the USA and had suspicious transactions with JP Morgan Chase Bank in the same country.

Selim also bought casino chips and equipment spending several crores from Park MGM, the sources added.

ACC Deputy Director Gulshan Anowar Prodhan has recently made Mutual Legal Assistance Request [MLAR] to the authorities in Thailand and the USA, seeking official documents containing this information. Once he receives them, the ACC would be able to prove their case in court, said officials.

The officials said they would submit a supplementary charge sheet in the case against Selim soon. “We will submit it once we get those documents from Thailand and the USA”, said an ACC official.

The graft watchdog had filed the case against Selim on October 27 last year over amassing wealth worth Tk 12.27 crore beyond his known sources of income.

Rab arrested Selim at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on September 28 last year while he was attempting to flee the country.

On September 24 this year, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) submitted a charge-sheet in another case against Selim and five others over laundering around Tk 13.28 crore they made from an online casino trade.

TIB CRITICISES ACC

When his attention was drawn to the delay in completing the investigation, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Iftekharuzzaman criticised the ACC.

“Given some benefit of doubt in favour of its visibly overwhelmed state due to the enormity of alleged instances of reported corruption that are thrust upon it, the ACC has not yet shown any credible evidence of prioritising its tasks, especially in terms of setting examples of successes against the proverbial big fish,” he said, in an email yesterday.

Long delays are likely to be linked with this lack of prioritisation on the one hand and deficits of 3 C’s on the other — capacity, courage and commitment to deliver its mandate, he said.

Iftekharuzzaman said the ACC has agreeably been recently going after some politically linked persons, including a few public representatives, and even a handful of MPs.

“But in hardly any of these cases has the ACC demonstrated that it has been able to dig deep and wide enough to succeed in holding to account either those directly alleged or their cohorts and colluders, not to speak of the godfathers operating from behind.

“Either for perceived political pressure or for its own choice, the ACC seems to have drawn a self-imposed upper limit beyond which it dares not to go lest it burns its fingers.

“As a result, many of the much-hyped inquiries or investigations which are subjected to long delays on the stated grounds of either lack of progress on MLARs with countries where illicit transfers of corrupt money and wealth have taken place or due to coronavirus related constraints, may eventually end up serving nothing more than a fruitless purpose of communication value to salvage some semblance of public trust.”

 





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