It has been 15 years and counting, owning a home with all modern facilities near the capital city remains a pipe dream for more than 5,000 people who invested in a housing project which is still under water.
In 2005, Nasim Real Estate Company Ltd lured them – mainly expatriates and government employees – into buying plots in the so-called "Nasim City" located in Savar's Uttar Kaundia area with promises of constructing a school, college, hospital, playground and ensuring other civic facilities inside it.
The city on the bank of the River Turag – a 10-minute waterway journey from Diabari Ghat – was also supposed to be connected to the Mirpur National Zoo road with a bridge.
However, not a single purchaser has got possession of their plot yet.
In reality, they fell prey to the conman Imam Hossain Nasim, 66, owner of Nasim Real Estate Limited, who gobbled up Tk300 crore from around 5,000 people, according to sources at the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).
Following allegations from the victims, the RAB on 30 September arrested Nasim along with his third wife and business partner Halima Akter Salma, 32, from his "technically well guarded" residence in Mirpur, Dhaka.
Nasim was also wanted in at least 55 different cases and was accused in over 100 cases filed in connection with fraudulence, narcotics and possession of illegal arms.
The cases are now being investigated. The Criminal Investigation Department and the Anti-Corruption Commission are also set to launch probes into money laundering and money embezzlement issues over the incidents.
A visit to 'Nasim City'
On a recent visit to the 'Nasim City', The Business Standard found a marshy land under 10-15 feet water, adjacent to the Tamanna Park, a recreational place, on the bank of the Turag.
The government owns most of the land which remains inundated during the rainy season. There was no existence of the so-called city.
When asked about the project site, an elderly boatman, Abdur Rahim, told this correspondent, "Are you looking for a housing project in the middle of the wetland? Go 10-15 feet under my boat, you may find it."
Then he said, laughing, "Let us find it using this paddle."
Pointing fingers to a red flag in the wetland nearby the Turag, Md Safiuddin, who owns a few decimals of land at Uttar Kaundia, said there was a tiny signboard of the "Nasim City" a few years ago.
"Though Nasim owns only two bighas of land in the area, he posed himself as the owner of around 350 bighas of wetland," he clarified.
Atikur Rahman Khan, chairman of Kaundia Union Parishad, said, "I have never heard of anything about the city before the arrest of Nasim."
Happy Das, assistant commissioner (Land) in Aminbazar, told The Business Standard that the "claimed" land of Nasim City is actually owned by the government and a few local people.
A honey trap
Nasim crushed dreams of several thousand people by swindling crores of taka out of them.
Late engineer Md Khizir Khan, former chairman of Bangladesh Power Development Board, Md Insar Ali, director of Proshika, and 423 others wanted to build a residential complex at an affordable cost.
Later in 2010, they visited the "Nasim City" and purchased around 340 kathas of land at Tk17 crore. They paid the amount in several instalments between 2010 and 2018.
We trusted him as he had a membership in the Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB), the plots were cheaper and the location was only 30 minutes from Mirpur
"In 2010, we visited their project, and land documents seemed okay. Nasim also told us expatriates from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates invested in the project. We trusted him as he had a membership in the Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB), the plots were cheaper and the location was only 30 minutes from Mirpur," Proshika Director Md Insar Ali said.
However, none of them among the 425 people has got an inch of land in the area yet.
Selim Jahangir, a manager at a five-star hotel in Dhaka, was also duped by Nasim. He paid Tk60 lakh to get a piece of land in the city.
"I never suspected that the project could be fake. I even checked a few documents but found nothing wrong. Actually, he very cunningly orchestrated everything when we visited the spot," he added.
Salha Binte Mahbub, an expatriate in the United States, bought five kathas of land there in 2014. She also visited the project site and paid Tk7 lakh to get the land registered under her name.
"Nasim gave me plot 390. I bought the land to come back home and live in Dhaka. My dream was shattered too," she added.
The 'dramatic' arrest of Nasim
Even after being accused in over 100 cases, Nasim had been enjoying impunity. He used to live in an apartment on the underground floor of a building in Mirpur. The entrance to the apartment was secured with a face recognition system.
To evade arrest, he also used to move with 4-5 members of his "personal security force" with guns and walkie-talkies.
On the evening of 30 September, the RAB knocked on the door of Nasim's underground den.
Members of the elite force broke open the "facial recognition" door and arrested him along with his wife on charges of committing fraud.
Nasim had also pocketed crores of taka by taking at least Tk5 lakh from around 5,000 people each with a promise of building a residential city in the Kaundia area of Savar in the early 2000s
Md Mozammael Haque, director of RAB-4, claimed that Nasim had also pocketed crores of taka by taking at least Tk5 lakh from around 5,000 people each with a promise of building a residential city in the Kaundia area of Savar in the early 2000s.
The RAB also seized a foreign pistol, a magazine, three round of bullets, Tk1.35 lakh in counterfeit banknotes, 1,400 pieces of contraband yaba pills, two bottles of foreign liquor, four sets of walkie-talkies, six passports, 37 bank chequebooks and 32 SIM cards.
Nasim claimed to be owning at least 16 companies which he formed through fraud, said the RAB-4 commanding officer.
Among those, only a water supplying company named Nasim Drinking Water has been found to exist.
The companies that exist in names only are Nasim Developer Ltd, Nasim Agro Food, Nasim Bazar, SB Foundation, Dr Belayet Hossain Medical College and Hospital, Nasim Parcel and Courier, Weekly Imarat Ortho, Nasim Ship Builders, Nasim Engineering and Consultancy, Nasim Trading Ltd, Shahana Eye Hospital, Banglanews16, Nasim Sugar and Nasim Beverage.
Asked why they could not arrest Nasim earlier although he was wanted in at least 55 cases, ASM Mahatab Uddin, deputy commissioner of police, Mirpur Division, Dhaka Metropolitan Police, declined to comment.
Hotline number keeps ringing
Following the arrest of Nasim, the RAB has opened a hotline number, 01777710407, where new allegations are coming each and every moment.
Md Akhteruzzaman, senior assistant superintendent of police and law officer of RAB-4 said they received 400 complaints against Nasim till October 11.
"We have got calls from all the 64 districts of the country round the clock. Apart from local calls, we also had to receive over 100 calls made from abroad," he added.
"From Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, the United States of America to the United Arab Emirates, victims are calling from across the globe," the officer added.
No quick remedy for the victims
RAB-4 Director Mozammael Haque said the victims had lodged complaints with REHAB against Nasim on a number of occasions but never got a remedy.
Replying to a question, REHAB Vice-President Kamal Mahmud told The Business Standard that they received two complaints in 2015 and 2016 and later a victim also filed a case in a Dhaka court against Nasim Real Estate.
"We resolved a complaint at REHAB. However, the other complainant never contacted REHAB after filing the complaint and that is why we could not take any action in that regard," he added.
"If someone files a complaint, we will try to help them receive a refund as per the terms and conditions," he added.
Asked how Nasim Real Estate Company Ltd obtained licence from REHAB, the REHAB vice-president declined to make any comment. Instead, he said the then board of directors can answer this question.
The board will decide whether the company's licence would be revoked or not
"The board will decide whether the company's licence would be revoked or not," he added.
But, RAB-4 Law Officer Md Akhteruzzaman said he did not see any early hope for the victims.
"We have applied to the CID and the ACC to file money laundering cases against Nasim.
"If the authorities seize his bank accounts and wealth which he amassed through fraudulence, then the victims can get some refunds with proper documents and also with a court order," he added.