File photo: The human trafficking routes to southeast Asia through the Bay of Bengal, which became active around 2010, are now being used to smuggle desperate Rohingya refugees out of Bangladesh Abdul Aziz/Dhaka Tribune
‘Such indifference on the part of the government is a matter of both concern and shame considering the country’s reputation in the international arena and the future of thousands of migrant workers’
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has termed the incident of a Bangladeshi lawmaker being accused of human trafficking and money laundering in Kuwait as a shameful example of political mischief.
In a statement issued to the media on Tuesday, TIB called on the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Parliament to take immediate and effective action in this matter in order to preserve the dignity of the House.
Citing various reports published in the media in Kuwait and Bangladesh, TIB claimed that from the very beginning, the government, parliament, the ACC, the Financial Intelligence Unit, the revenue authorities, and the concerned law enforcement agencies had not taken the accusations against the Bangladeshi MP seriously and instead had tried to look away from the issue.
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said: “Following the publication of media reports in Kuwait regarding a Bangladeshi lawmaker being involved in human trafficking, the ambassador of Bangladesh to Kuwait issued a release saying that the allegations were baseless after his so-called investigation. This also made the headlines here.”
“Moreover, our government and the authorities concerned, including the ACC, were content with that. Parliament did not take any initiative concerning the issue. Even after the recent developments in the arrest of the accused MP on specific charges and the confiscation of his assets, one of our ministers, more than once, said that the government had nothing to do unless the Kuwaiti government officially informed them.
“Such indifference on the part of the government is a matter of both concern and shame considering the country’s reputation in the international arena and the future of thousands of migrant workers,” he added.
“Thousands of workers who have been trafficked in the name of employment and have been held hostage for money are all citizens of Bangladesh. There is definitely a human trafficking ring operating inside the country where the involvement of several government people is certain.
“The allegations made against the MP are also considered to be serious crimes in Bangladesh. Then why should we still wait for Kuwait to start our investigation? It is quite clear from the course of events that the government has not always had the political will to effectively investigate the matter and different influential quarters are also involved in this,” he said.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, mentioning the importance of expatriate workers who bring in large sums of remittance which propels the country’s socio-economic development, said: “Considering the great contribution of our expatriate workers, we hope that the government will adopt a tough stance in this regard by acknowledging its responsibility to the country and its people. We also hope that the Speaker will take the initiative to scrutinize this incident to see how much shame this has brought for our Parliament and what can be a remedy for this situation.
“Otherwise, the very foundations of a democratic country, the rule of law, will be further undermined, and these crimes will spread within our politics as well as among people who represent us.”
Earlier on June 7, Md Shahid Islam alias Papul, an independent member of Parliament elected from Lakshmipur 2 constituency, was arrested by the Kuwait authorities in Kuwait City on charges of human trafficking and money laundering.
A source indicated that the authorities also issued arrest warrants for two suspects, one of whom was accused of taking a cheque of 1 million dinars from Papul.
Investigators believe the suspects are currently on the run.
The source said, “The investigators believe one of the suspects had taken a cheque worth one million dinars through his dealings with Papul, as per contract between them to employ workers in government ministries. Therefore, it is necessary to know the details of these transactions.”
The source pointed out that the number of accused is currently 7, after hearing the statements of the in-charge of the manpower ministry and a colonel in the interior ministry, and after the naming of a businesswoman as a suspect in the case.
The Kuwaiti media have also accused Papul of trading visas and laundering money to the US.
According to Al Qabas, Papul is a member of a three-man racket whose other members include another Bangladeshi MP, whose wife is also an MP from a seat reserved for women.
It added that the trio occupied sensitive positions in three major companies that brought over 20,000 Bangladeshi workers into Kuwait in exchange for large sums of money believed to be in excess of 50 million dinars.
In February, Papul dismissed as “false and imaginary” allegations that he trafficked people to Kuwait.
He told reporters, “I was not even involved in manpower export, let alone human trafficking.”