The recent RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) raids on the houses, offices and dens of some Jubo League leaders have epitomised Bangladesh's emergence as a role model of development.
RAB in the last couple of days have carried out operations in different areas, including Dhaka and Chittagong, and have sealed off a number of casinos. They have seized state-of-the-art casino equipment as well as alcohol, narcotics and huge amounts of cash.
They have arrested many influential people, but a good number of others got away with their misdeeds. Many are said to have already fled the country in order to evade arrest. Some casino owners have shut down their businesses and have gone into hiding. These people have been involved in illicit businesses in the name of operating different organisations and clubs.
Intelligence reports said more than 100 casinos are in operation across the country, including 60 in the capital city. According to a newspaper report, investments in casino businesses have exceeded stock investments.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said casinos are illegal in Bangladesh, and that no-one has permission to operate this business. How then was it possible to import casino equipment if this business was not permissible in the first place? Such equipment cannot be used for other purposes.
Moreover, a variety of other stuff has been imported along with casino equipment.
There was a time when the size of the rallies organised by a political party represented its strength. Now the number of casinos owned by a youth organisation demonstrates its power. Even countries where the casino business is legal do not have so many casinos in a single city.
In Bangladesh, gambling is not just a game. It is synonymous with power, influence and illegal money. Many solvent and middle-class people have gone bankrupt because of a gambling addiction.
There is reason to believe that the amount of ill-gotten money has risen massively in Bangladesh, given the sum seized by RAB from the clubs and homes of Jubo League leaders. Wherever law enforcement officials carry out raids, they discover a stash of money.
Self-proclaimed Jubo League leader-cum-contractor GK Shamim offered Tk10 crore to RAB when they raided his office. Some even tried to save another Jubo League leader, Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan, but eventually backed off in the face of
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's rigid stance. Khaled was expelled from Jubo League.
Media statements have been issued now, claiming that Shamim does not belong to the Jubo League or to the Awami League. The irony is that Shamim himself has long been claiming that he is Jubo League's coordination secretary and a leader of Awami League's Narayanganj district unit.
Why didn't the Awami League officially contest this claim before, if Shamim really was not a party member?
A portion of earnings from the casino operated by Khaled Mahmud in the name of Young Men's Club in Dhaka's Fakirapool area went to many party members as well as to people in the administration. Khaled is reported to be in control of 16 more casinos.
Oddly enough, these are the people our policymakers want to use to turn the spirit of the Liberation War into reality.
The casino business is intertwined with power politics. When the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) was in power, leaders of the party and its youth wing, Jubo Dal, operated casinos. Now Awami League and Jubo League leaders are doing the same.
GK Shamim's contractor firm is implementing 16 government projects worth Tk2,500 crore. During interrogation, Shamim said he got an edge over other contractors in securing so many contracts by offering large sums in kickbacks to ministers and to other high-ups in the administration. Two former chief engineers of the Public Works Division reportedly received Tk1,500 crore in bribes from him.
When RAB raided Shamim's office, they found Tk1.80 crore in cash and Tk165 crore in FDRs (Fixed Deposit Receipts). Shamim, who was known as the right-hand man of an influential minister during the BNP's tenure, made a U-turn when the Awami League came to power. He built rapport with Awami League leaders and won many big contracts from the Public Works Division.
His influence stretches from the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant to the University of Chittagong. He reportedly won the Tk75 crore bid for the construction of the new arts building of the University of Chittagong by submitting fake documents.
A faction of the local Chhatra League resorted to manipulation to allow only two companies to submit tenders so that one of them that was chosen specifically can win.
Other contractors allegedly could not submit tenders because of the influential presence of the then president and general secretary of Chhatra League's university wing. This led to the murder of Diaz Irfan Chowdhury, joint secretary of
Chhatra League's central committee. He was killed at his home on November 20, 2016.
Gulshan police in a court report said GK Shamim is known as a notorious extortionist, tender manipulator, and narcotics and gambling trader. The report said Shamim's accomplices are high-paid individuals in the government.
Whether the government is ready to capture Shamim's accomplices is the question now. If the abettors are brought to trial, it will bring in some advantages for the government. Otherwise, the raids and arrests will be fruitless like many other initiatives.
People like GK Shamim and Khaled Mahmud have long been involved in nefarious activities in the name of politics. So why didn't the government take action against them earlier? Also, why have the law enforcement agencies acted indifferent for so long?
Influential ministers said anti-corruption drives are being carried out on the prime minister's directive, which is commendable. But why was action not taken on this for so long?
Moreover, what are the ministers doing if the prime minister has to give orders in every affair?
Almost every party in Bangladesh has its youth wing. The Awami League has Jubo League, the BNP has Jubo Dal, the Communist Party has Jubo Union. These youth wings are not involved in any noteworthy party activities except for observing special days or anniversaries.
Some Jubo League leaders turned businessmen recently said that they have introduced a new culture in Bangladesh in order to revive youth power. This is the culture of operating illegal casinos and offering huge kickbacks to manipulate government project tenders.