Within a day of arresting three people, including an Election Commission officer, for providing fake National Identification (NID) cards to Rohingya refugees, Anti Corruption Commisison have traced another gang that sells fake NID cards in Chattogram.
The suspected kingpin, Shahnur, works as a technical expert at the NID department in the Dhaka Election Commission (EC) office.
The gang has 20 members, most of whom are either relatives or friends of Shahnur. They work on outsourcing for the EC's different regional offices including Dhaka and Chattogram.
Shahidullah, Sharmin, Shah Alam, Tasmin Akter, Shah Jamal, Jahid Hosen, Nayem Islam and Hiru have been identified as the key people in the gang, according to sources at different law enforcing agencies.
Deputy Assistant Director of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Chattogram office, Md Sharif Uddin, said some syndicates are using laptops that have gone missing from the Election Commission in 2016 to make fake NID cards.
About 600 NIDs have been issued using the laptops since then, according to sources in the ACC.
So far six laptops have gone missing from the EC regional offices - four from Chandanaish Upazila office and 1 from Kaptai and 1 from Rangamati office.
All these NID cards are used solely for procuring Bangladeshi passports. Bangladeshi passports are now the most precious thing for Rohingya refugees.
Security Expert Maj (retd) Emdadul Islam told The Business Standard that Rohingyas rarely do anything with the NID card except for getting Bangladeshi passports.
"They do not buy land using a Bangladeshi NID, they take it to get a Bangladeshi passport to go abroad," said Maj Emdadul.
Earlier, they tried to go abroad by boat.
"Due to strict vigilance on sea routes, now they have chosen air routes," he explained.
Meanwhile, many Rohingyas have been detained abroad with Bangladeshi passports, he added.
It will tarnish the image of the country if Rohingyas commit crimes after going abroad with Bangladeshi passports, said Maj Emdadul.
More than 500 Rohingyas submitted applications for passports recently to the Chattogram and the Cox's Bazar passport offices have been found to have fake supporting documents, according to sources in the offices.
Of those, the ACC found around 138 applications in the Chattogram office that had fake character and birth certificates attached.
The rest of the applications have been sent to different law enforcing agencies for verification.
The deputy director of the Cox's Bazar regional passport office Abu Naim Masum said: "They (Rohingyas) come to us with smartcards and some of them also have police verification certificates. We rejected 18 such applications even after the completion of police verification process."
If strict measures had been taken earlier, so many Rohingyas would not have got fake NID cards or passports, said Naim.
The ACC has found that each passport application includes a photocopy of a NID card, birth certificate and character certificate issued by local public representatives including councillors of Chattogram City Corporation and Banshkhali Municipality mayor.
"The process of getting a passport starts from the union parishad office. If the union parishad chairman and members do not give them birth registration certificates, they will not get NID cards and passports," said Maj Emdadul.
Election Commission's negligence
Despite the mysterious missing laptop incidents in 2016, the Election Commission has not done anything to recover the machines.
The EC has not cancelled any suspicious NID cards after the laptops went missing.
Despite getting specific information about 1,772 Rohingyas being registered as Bangladeshi voters in 2018, the Election Commission is yet to complete an investigation into the matter. Chattogram alone has 243 Rohingyas as voters.
Regarding the issue, Chattogram Regional Election Officer Md Hasanuzzaman said they have instructed their upazila offices to complete the probe as soon as possible.
"Anyone found to be involved in forging NID cards will not be spared," he added.
Commenting on the issue, security expert major (retd) Emdadul Islam said: "Many Rohingyas have been detained abroad with Bangladeshi passports. The Rohingyas, who get Bangladeshi national identity cards, rarely do anything else with it other than apply for passports.
"They do not use their identity cards to buy land in Bangladesh, instead they use it to get a passport and travel to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and the USA."
Adding that the Rohingyas used to prefer boats for going abroad, he said: "Due to strict vigilance on sea routes, they now prefer air routes. This is why, the demand for passports among Rohingyas has gone up.
"The process of getting a Bangladeshi passport can be started from a union parishad office. If the union parishad chairmen and members prevent Rohingyas from getting birth certificates, it will also stop them from getting NIDs and passports."
The security expert further alleged that the police have a responsibility in this matter.
"The police take bribes to complete the verification process for Rohingyas. They [police] should be more careful, as Rohingyas going abroad with Bangladeshi passports could tarnish the image of our country," he told The Business Standard.