The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) submitted a charge-sheet in court in 2019, identifying a Dhaka-based transnational narcotics syndicate with operations in at least nine countries – involving a long route from Southeast Asia to Latin America.
The charge-sheet mentioned 13 Bangladeshis belonging to the gang, but it neither named the source of the drugs – mostly heroin and cocaine – nor the remaining operatives abroad.
Of the Bangladeshi nationals, six are now behind bars, three are on bail and four are still off the hook.
But, even after two years of submission of the charge-sheet, charges are yet to be pressed.
Investigators privy to the matter said they had no idea about such a Dhaka-based cross border gang until Sri Lankan police gave them a tip-off in 2018. In that year, three Bangladeshis were arrested in the island country with heroin and cocaine in their possession.
The CID subsequently in 2019 raided an apartment in Dhaka's Uttara, seizing a laptop that would guide the investigation all the way down the line – from Dhaka to Colombo.
The resident of the flat, Choice Rahman, was arrested. The forensic test of his laptop provided the investigators with the details of the gang. A narcotics case was filed against him with Uttara (west) Police Station.
'Reach out to them, immediately'
"The laptop had several folders such as 'big boss', 'second-in-command' and 'workers' with the categorised details of the syndicate," said a CID official wishing not to be named.
"In the folders, we had photos of the gang, pictures of their passports, visas and screenshots of the drug deals," he said.
The laptop had a letter about a heroin consignment from Pakistan to Malaysia, which was to be sent to Sri Lanka. The letter said "the boss and his aide" had been staying in Malaysia for three days with the consignment.
The letter had two contact numbers, asking Choice Rahman to reach out to the "boss and the aide" immediately to take charge of the operation, and to ensure the drugs reached Sri Lanka safely.
During interrogation, Choice Rahman told police that three of his associates had recently been arrested in Sri Lanka with 300 kilograms of heroin and five kilograms of cocaine, and one in China with narcotics.
Lone investor, others were just the mules
Sources at the CID said the gang members used to travel to Asian, European and Latin American countries on business and tourist visas. Most of the gang members had multiple passports.
"Choice Rahman established the syndicate in 2014, and he invested in transboundary drug trafficking. Rahman had direct contact with the East Asian and Latin American drug lords," said a CID official on condition of anonymity.
The official said Rahman recruited at least 11 individuals – mostly less educated and financially strapped girls.
CID officials mentioned one Sheikh Mohammad Arif as the associate of Rahman. They named another six girls who used to carry drugs to different countries. The mules named are Afsana Mimi, Fatema Imam Tania, Salma Sultana Shwapna, Sharmin Akter Maya, Shahina Akter and Surja Moni.
Of them, Surja Moni was arrested in Sri Lanka while ShahinaAkter was arrested in China. Another gang member, Ruhul Amin Saymon, used to work on visa processing and other paperwork for the couriers.
Flawed charge sheet?
After the tip-off from Colombo, Bangladesh Police headquarters formed a team headed by an additional superintendent of police at CID. A senior official of the team who later got transferred told The Business Standard, "The investigation failed to attain the standards a transnational case demands."
"The charge-sheet does not mention the South East Asian or Latin American drug lords. CID senior officials went to Sri Lanka leaving the investigation officer of the case at home. But the Colombo tour was quite meaningless," he claimed.
"The Sri Lankan police must have the testimonies of the arrested Bangladeshis. But our officials could not obtain any access to those. A number of facts related to the case are still shrouded in mystery," he noted.
Analysis ofa copy of the charge-sheet revealed that the CID only accused Bangladeshi citizens of drug trafficking and completely overlooked the rest of the syndicate believed to be still active in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Dubai, China, Kuwait, Italy and Brazil.
CID officials said they sought the cooperation of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and law enforcers of the respective countries. Without their support, foreign nationals involved in drug trafficking could not be identified.
The officials maintained, however, that their investigation is still going on though they have submitted the charge-sheet to the court. If they can find anything new, that will be added to the supplementary charge-sheet.
However, Faruk Hossain, the supervisor in the case and now deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), said the police have done their work sincerely.
"We submitted the charge-sheet, mentioning the roles of the 13 individuals, and the court accepted it," he added.
Mohammad SalahuddinHawlader, assistant public prosecutor of the Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court, said 15 March this year was set for charge framing in the narcotics case.
But since the accused could not be produced in court due to the pandemic-led crisis, the charge framing was postponed.