Customs intelligence officials fear an increasing number of illegal firearms imported through the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka may be falling into the hands of criminals.
A three-man probe committee was formed on Tuesday to investigate the trafficking of restricted weapons after the confiscation of 21 guns by customs intelligence at the airport on July 9 and 11, of which 16 were Walther PPs and five were HK4s.
This followed the seizure of 19 weapons imported by M/S Imran Arms and Company on Monday due to violations of arms imports legislation.
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The firearms were imported from Italy CIID
Customs sources say that criminals have begun importing firearms both legally and illegally ahead of the 2019 general elections “in order to create havoc”, prompting increased surveillance by all government intelligence branches and a zero-tolerance policy on the issue.
M/S Imran Arms and Co imported a shipment of 58 weapons from Italy. Of these, 19 old defective weapons were seized by customs officials.
Dr Moinul Khan, director general of Customs Intelligence, said there are restrictions on the imports of old and defective weapons under import laws.
“Various customs intelligence officers and weapons specialists were present when the imported weapons were tested,” he said.
“19 of those were found to be old and unusable during the tests. The different parts of those weapons were also manufactured separately in violation of arms import laws, so we had to seize them. Arms importers have knowingly brought in these weapons.”
DG Khan said the investigation would ascertain whether these kinds of weapons are being sold on the black market: “There are nearly 100 arms-importing institutions in the country. We will look into each and every one of them.”
Arms dealers claim that they do not import restricted weapons and follow all legal procedures during their transactions. They allege that custom officials have wrongfully seized their shipments and have vowed to take their case to the courts.
Nur Uddin Imran, owner of M/S Imran and Co, said the weapons his company had tried to import were “completely new”.
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Criminals have begun importing firearms ahead of the general elections CIID
"We have no idea why customs officials are calling them ‘old’. We were not given an opportunity to look at them even after we asked,” he said.
Imran said his company firsts looks at pictures of weapons online, and then places an order after completing all the necessary paperwork. He claims the shipment from Italy had received permission from all the associated departments.
“Now they are telling us that we do not have the required papers for the imports, but we have the papers for all 58 of them,” he said. “The weapons exporters would never sell old weapons at the price of new ones. And even if they did, why would we import them when they have a 300% tax on them?”
Abdul Halim, CEO of arms import business Smith and Anvil Limited, said the customs officials have
“committed a punishable offence” by calling the weapons old and mismatched.
“They have committed an even bigger offence by claiming that there are weapons with the same number in Bangladesh. The weapons have come from Rome. The embassy has testified on them in Italian, after receiving permission from the Home Ministry in Bangladesh. The order was then sent to the exporters.
Abdul Halim said that after nearly two years of testing, the Italian government gave their permission.
“The whole process was completely legal. The weapons arrived in Bangladesh on an international airline, after a transit in Kuwait. He [Imran] even told a few intelligence offices about them. But the customs officials have overstepped their boundaries,” he said.
“They are incompetent when it comes to this. I have asked them to show the weapons to the CID since this is not under their jurisdiction.”
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Arms dealers claim that they do not import restricted weapons CIID
Abdul added that it is “quite normal” to see different numbers on different parts of the same weapon.
“We write numbers on the different parts of the weapons. There is nothing surprising about this (but) if they do not know about this, that does not make it unusual.”
Dr Khan said a three-man probe committee has been formed and is expected to file a report within 10 working days. It comprises Joint Commissioner of Customs Intelligence AKM Nurul Huda Azad. working above Deputy Director Saifur Rahman and Assistant Director Zobaida Khanom.
“The investigation will initially look at whether old and lower-quality weapons are being marketed as new and functioning weapons to unsuspecting customers, and the purpose behind importing unidentifiable and mismatched weapons,” he said. “The committee will also look into whether these weapons pose a risk to national security.”
Customs intelligence officials said the recent weapons confiscations were made as part of Bangladeshi involvement in ‘Operation Irene’, which is running between July 3 and August 4 across the Asia-Pacific region to target and counter trafficking in small arms and light weapons.
‘Operation Irene’ is run by the World Customs Organisation’s enforcement agency, the Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO).
This story was first published on the Bangla Tribune