All but one probe bodies held former state minister AB Tajul Islam responsible
The perpetrators of a scam in which hundreds of substandard gold crests were handed out from 2011 to 2013 are yet to be visibly punished despite nearly a decade having passed since the incident.
The Awami League-led grand alliance government between 2011 and 2013 awarded gold crests to 338 foreign friends and organizations for their outstanding contributions to Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971. Every crest or shield was supposed to contain 22.5g of gold and 339g of silver, according to government documents.
However, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) tested a shield in 2012 and found that it was made of just 2.363g of gold and 466.237g of brass.
A slew of probe committees
After the media zeroed in on the anomaly in April 2014, the Liberation War Affairs Ministry formed a probe committee to investigate the crest incident.
The committee found that the government had lost over Tk7.04 crore through the sub-par shields. The probe body held AB Tajul Islam, former state minister for Liberation War Affairs, and 12 others in his ministry responsible for the fraud.
The Public Administration Ministry initially rejected the findings of the probe committee, as the committee did not have the jurisdiction to investigate senior ministry officials. However, a newly formed probe committee by the Public Administration Ministry submitted the same report as that by the first committee.
Despite the findings of the committees, action was not taken against the perpetrators due to the hurdle of their being high ranking government officials.
Later in 2014, another probe committee was formed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs. AB Tajul Islam was the head of the standing committee at the time.
When the third probe committee submitted its report, it omitted AB Tajul Islam’s name from the report.
Yet another probe committee was formed when AKM Mozammel Haque took charge of the Liberation War Affairs Ministry in 2017. According to media reports, the investigation found the involvement of Tajul Islam, 12 ministry officials (including former secretaries Mizanur Rahman and KH Masud Siddique), and private suppliers in the scam.
Among the 12 government employees, Secretary Golam Mustafa and Senior Assistant Secretary Babul Mia were made officers on special duty (OSD).
According to government sources, Golam Mustafa is now on retirement, while Babul Mia is still serving as a senior assistant secretary.
Parallel legal proceedings
Enayet Ullah Khan, senior assistant secretary at the Liberation War Affairs Ministry, filed a corruption case with Shahbagh police station over the scam in June 2014.
Suppliers Mir Daud Ahmed, owner of Emicon in Banani, and Md Mohsinul Hasan, owner of Messrs Mohsinul Hasan, were accused in the case.
Mir Daud Hossain is also a nephew of AB Tajul Islam.
The Anti-Corruption Commission investigated the allegations. According to the case statement, the suppliers embezzled funds by making the substandard crests.
However, the case is still in the trial process.
In the past week, this correspondent visited the Liberation War Affairs Ministry, Public Administration ministry and others involved in investigating the scam.
Most of the officials had forgotten about the matter.
“Why are you digging up an old corpse? This issue has been kept quiet following instructions from government high-ups,” one official said.
Only the case against the suppliers is still running, but this case will not actually affect the suppliers, according to the sources.
Suppliers said the ministry had received their crest and cleared their bill. They asked that the crest sent to the BSTI was one they had made be proved.
When contacted, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said: “The investigation report has been submitted to the Public Administration Ministry. Now it is their job.”
A senior official of the Public Administration ministry's disciplinary department told this correspondent: “It’s an old file. Some of the officials who were made OSD have retired, while others have moved on to jobs in other sectors. There are no new updates.”
When contacted, former state minister of Ministry of Liberation War affairs AB Tajul Islam told Dhaka Tribune: “The matter is under the jurisdiction of the court now. The court will decide what happens."
In response to a question, he said: “I do not think it is decent to comment on an ongoing case of the court. You can ask the ministry for further details.”
Julian Francis, a recipient of the Friends of Liberation War Honour in 2012 for his his work among the refugees in India in 1971, said: “I am disgusted that justice has not been served until now; nine years since the crimes were committed and seven years since they came to the attention of the media and others.”
He added that it seemed corruption was endemic in Bangladesh and civil servants could get away with anything.
“If the owner of the corrupt Emicon is the nephew of the then minister and tender procedures were ignored, surely that says a great deal. If a destitute person steals some food because they or their children are starving, they can be sent to jail. However, if businessmen or civil servants are corrupt and steal money, they can easily avoid jail because of their status and connections. It is desperately sad, totally wrong, and unfair,” Francis, also an OBE for services to development in Bangladesh, further said.