The Detective Branch (DB) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police has revealed that five licensed arms dealers in Dhaka imported 111 illegal semi-automatic Uzi pistols and rifles since 2015 and already sold 49 of them to civilians.
According to arms laws in Bangladesh, civilians cannot import, buy or use automatic weapons. However, licensed arms dealers can import automatic weapons classified as rifles for use in law enforcement and defence.
But the five dealers in Dhaka are importing Uzi pistols and rifles under the classification of automatic rifles, and then selling them to licensed civilian customers after classifying the weapons as pistols, DB sources told The Business Standard.
In last August, the DB police apprehended an alleged drug peddler in Dhaka and, curiously enough, seized an illegal Uzi submachine gun from his possession, along with foreign liquor.
The weapon – an Israeli-made semi-automatic machine pistol with a 20-round magazine and 600 rounds per minute firing capability – drew immediate attention of the law enforcement agencies.
After further investigation, the Tejgaon Division of DB found that the Uzi pistol was imported from Germany, and it is far more lethal than the weapons law enforcers are currently using in Bangladesh, said DB sources.
The DB also tracked down the licensed five arms importers located in the Dhaka Metropolitan area, who admitted to importing at least 91 semi-automated Uzi guns and 20 illegal semi-automated Uzi rifles since 2015 – both of which are illegal to import for civilian use in Bangladesh.
The importers further revealed that they have already sold 49 Uzi guns and four Uzi rifles (from this imported consignment) to civilian customers with valid arms licenses.
Providing more details, DB Tejgaon Division's Deputy Commissioner, Golam Mostafa Russel said, "The vehicle theft prevention team of DB Tejgaon Division arrested a drug peddler named Md Meenal Sharif, 56, from Dhanmondi area on 20 August.
"We also seized a valid arms license from a car belonging to him. Later at night, the DB team raided his residence and seized a UZI pistol with 44 rounds, foreign liquor and cans of beer. The same night, we also filed a case with the Dhanmondi police station."
The DB deputy commissioner added, "We also seized an Uzi pistol from the drug peddler, because his license does not allow him to own such weapons. We later contacted arms specialists in the country to learn more details about the Uzi and the threat it poses in the wrong hands."
On 23 August, the DB team summoned licensed arms importer, Mokaram Hossain Khan Ripon of HM Arms Company Ltd in Paltan, who sold the Uzi to Sharif. Ripon informed the police that he had imported these arms legally through the import clearance of Dhaka Customs House and then hoarded them for sale.
Speaking to The Business Standard, Ripon said, "We imported these weapons with clearance from the Customs Department and also paid the taxes as per the rules. Only the Customs Department can comment on why they allowed us to import Uzis."
Responding to a query, Customs Valuation & Internal Audit Commissionerate's Additional Commissioner, Arun Kumar Biswas, said, "We have no information regarding the import of these types of guns. We will definitely do a thorough investigation regarding the matter."
Security expert, Brig Gen (retd) Shakhawat Hossain said, "If the customs department continues to act in such a negligent manner, it will pose a severe threat to national security. Steps must be taken to include arms experts in the import clearance process, so that they can verify every weapons shipment that enters the country."
Quoting a report forwarded by the arms experts, the Detective Branch said that anyone can import a .22 bore rifle under the Arms Act, but the law does not permit anyone to import or sell UZI pistols and rifles to civilians [which also have a .22 bore].
According to the report, which has also been sent to the Home Ministry and Customs Department, the UZI pistol and rifle are both different in length, size, weight and in other respects as well. It is a military-grade firearm, which should not be used by the public.
"Around the globe, the type of gun is used only by the Belgium Armed Forces and Israel Defense Force."
"The Uzi is a state-of the art firearm, and no other law enforcement agencies in the country have anything matching its lethality. Uzis have a magazine capacity of 20 rounds, but law enforcers use weapons with only 15-round magazine capacity," the report read.
The Business Standard has obtained a copy of the arms experts' report, which mentions that more information, such as the type of gun, should be mentioned in the arms license, alongside the bore calibre.
The report also recommended that law enforcement agencies and arms experts be present during the clearance of weapon consignments at the customs houses and suggested an amendment of the purchase gazette of the Home Ministry for civilians regarding arms license and purchase.
The report read that the Uzis can pose a threat to national security and compromise the country's law and order situation. "If the militants, drug peddlers and extremists can get access to these types of illegal weapons, that would cause a great crisis to public security as well," it reads.
Meanwhile, the Detective Branch has recommended that relevant authorities seize all 111 UZI pistols and rifles from purchasers and importers, and distribute those amongst the law enforcers for later use.