Bangladesh Army Operates 60 Illegal Casinos and Money Laundering Dens in Dhaka

Al Jazeera’s investigative unit has uncovered a criminal network colluding with the security forces of Bangladesh, which is profiting from powerful links with the country’s prime minister. Its investigation found evidence that General Aziz Ahmed, head of the Bangladesh Army, helped criminals to evade justice and make money from state corruption. Al Jazeera reported in this YouTube video.

State Capture

When AL JAZEERA, a Qatari television network, accused Bangladesh’s army chief of helping to hide his two fugitive brothers, who are on the run from a murder conviction, and of steering military procurement contracts their way, the Bangladeshi government did not investigate the allegations. It did not even bother to refute the claims in detail—including the assertion by one of the fugitives that Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the prime minister, was aware of and happy with this arrangement.

Quizzed by reporters, former Army Chief of Staff, General Aziz get annoyed once asked the question about Army operated Casino and money laundering businesses.

Sheikh Hasina has a peculiar relationship with the armed forces. It was soldiers who got her into politics in the first place by murdering her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first president, and most of her family, during a coup in 1975. Ever since, she has pursued a two-way settlement with the Army, avenging the killings of her family members and rewarding high-ranking army officers for their political alliance with her government.

A file photo shows Lieutenant General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed. Lieutenant General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed replaced outgoing Chief of Army Staff of Bangladesh Army General Aziz Ahmed.

General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed is no stranger to corruption and graft. Ahmed previously served as the Quartermaster General of the Bangladesh Army. General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed has been known to local media as Mr. twenty percent for his role in accepting twenty percent kickbacks for all the deals came through DGDP (Directorate General Defense Purchase), the procurement arm of Bangladesh Army.

The hyper-centralization of political authority under the Westminster-style parliamentary system and the zero-sum nature of Bangladeshi politics have left the country’s political system a fragile, foundationally weak democracy (Datta, 2004), or an ‘elective dictatorship’ (Cameron, Blanaru, & Burns, 2006; Croissant & Schächter, 2010).

Casino Business Busted

Bangladesh Army officers are involved in money laundering and illegal casino business near Savar in the capital city of Dhaka. Bangladesh Army also allowed a crime syndicate boss named Sami to wear Army’s uniforms and run extortion rackets in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan, politically aligned with Sheikh Hasina get arrested by RAB.

As gamblers called out bets around craps and roulette tables at a sports club in Bangladesh’s capital, dozens of black-clad security forces burst inside.

Gamblers were ordered to the floor as police and members of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion, which normally handles major counterterrorism operations, cracked open iron vaults full of cash. By the end of the raid, more than 140 people had been taken out of the makeshift casino in handcuffs.

Bangladesh Army operated Casinos in Dhaka.

At the same time, in another part of Dhaka, commandos were raiding the home of the suspected casino organizer, Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan, an influential member of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s party. They discovered stashes of liquor, cash and illegal arms.

A decade after Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party came to power, the country’s law enforcement agencies launched a crackdown this month on illegal casinos allegedly run by ruling party figures.

Law enforcement agencies reportedly prepared a list of some 60 casinos in the capital Dhaka that enjoy a transaction volume of 1.2 billion Bangladeshi taka ($14 million) a night.

After growing silently but with the apparent knowledge and patronage of powerful quarters, the casinos — mostly in Dhaka — would likely outnumber the ones operated in a city of another country where casinos are not illegal

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The sudden drive against the casinos starting on Sept. 18 caught off guard the leaders of the ruling party’s youth front, the Jubo League, said to be operating the casinos under the coverage of some popular sports clubs. A few were arrested and others remain at large.

“Understandably, things were going out of hand for the establishment, which now wants to put the casinos under control. It involves big money and the government wants to polish up its image,” Imtiaz Ahmed, a political scientist at Dhaka University, told Anadolu Agency. He added that from the perspective of state security, “the idea was to bring discipline.”

The Tourism Ministry secretary has already said that in the future, casino facilities would be made available for foreign tourists in exclusive zones.

Many criticized the proposal in the majority-Muslim country, citing the Constitution, which says: “The State shall adopt effective measures to prevent prostitution and gambling.” Paradoxically, casino and gambling materials were imported legally since they are not restricted items. Under Bangladesh’s colonial-era law, punishment for gambling is light.

The beneficiaries within Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party initially protested at the move, calling it belated after the uninterrupted growth of casinos, but once the iron lady said she would go ahead with the campaign to reign in the sector, no opposition or even criticism was seen.

Visibly invisible

Moneyed men aligned with the ruling party are made top officials at government sports bodies, while some Jubo League leaders captured influential positions at various sporting clubs that were used for casinos.

“Had there been proper elections at the clubs, this situation would not have been created. Government-nominated persons are now leading various organizations,” argued journalist Syed Abul Maksud, voicing doubts over whether all those involved in the casino business would be caught as, he argued, the clubs are “only a small part of an overall picture” of Bangladeshi society.

These leaders having muscle and money as well as administration officials played a critical role in the December 2018 general elections that kept the party in power with a more than three-fourths majority, following another one-sided victory at the polls in 2014. The BNP-led opposition parties, which collectively secured fewer than 10 seats in the 300-member parliament, rejected the ballot as utterly rigged and farcical.

There is no discussion of how the latest situation was created, who patronized these elements to break the law and commit corruption, under what kind of political circumstances it has been possible, and why the people tolerated this situation.

Raising such questions in an article published by a Bangladeshi daily, Ali Riaz, a professor at Illinois University in the U.S., argued that the absence of any debate on critical issues of the growth of casinos in the media as a whole gives “indications of something different,” an atmosphere that some find lacking in freedom, or stifled by self-censorship.

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