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FBI probe finds Khaleda, Tarique received kickbacks from Niko

  • Published at 09:40 pm December 1st, 2018
web-BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and her son, acting party chairman Tarique Rahman   Syed ZaKIr HoSSaIN/dHaKa TrIBuNe
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and her son, acting party chairman Tarique Rahman Syed Zakir Hossain/ Dhaka Tribune

According to both FBI and RCMP reports, Moudud played a key role behind Canada-based Niko securing the contract to explore gas fields in Bangladesh

BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, then the prime minister, and her son Tarique Rahman received a part of kickbacks via a proxy, paid by the Canada-based Niko Resources Ltd to get lease of some Sylhet gas fields, an investigation conducted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has found.

According to the investigation reports, seen by the Dhaka Tribune, BNP leader and the then law minister Moudud Ahmed played a key role behind Canada-based Niko securing the contract.

After the BNP-led alliance government took office in 2001, Niko signed two deals with Bapex and PetroBangla.

A Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with Bapex to develop two “marginal” gas fields in Sylhet’s Chhatak and Feni in 2003 and a Gas Purchase and Sales Agreement (GPSA) in 2006 with PetroBangla.

In a press briefing in November, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said his office moved a petition to a special court in Dhaka to include two Canadian police officials and a FBI agent to testify in the case.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) lodged the case against Khaleda and 10 others in 2007 during the Fakhruddin Ahmed-led caretaker regime.

According to the graft watchdog, the accused were responsible for causing the exchequer a loss of around Tk137.77 billion by abusing power to award a gas exploration and extraction deal to Niko during the BNP-led alliance’s tenure from 2001-2006.

Also Read- Attorney general: Niko graft case investigation report from Canadian, US authorities passed on to court

The others accused in the case are Moudud Ahmed, former state minister for energy and minerals AKM Mosharraf Hossain, former principal secretary Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, former secretary Khandaker Shahidul Islam, former senior assistant secretary CM Yusuf Hossain, former general manager of Bapex Mir Moinul Haque, former Bapex secretary Md Shafiur Rahman , businessman and known lobbyist Giasuddin Al Mamoon, a close friend of Tarique Rahman, former president of Dhaka Club Selim Bhuiyan, and Niko Vice-President for South Asia Qasim Sharif.

Niko pleaded guilty before a Canadian court of bribing Mosharraf and agreed to pay a $9.5 million fine in June 2011.

What was in the FBI report?

In the investigation report, former FBI special agent Debra Griffith, who was assigned by the FBI to investigate majority of the international money laundering and asset recovery cases between 2003 and 2015, wrote that she and Linda Samuel, the then deputy chief of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the US Department of Justice, travelled to Bangladesh five times between 2008 and 2011 and worked closely with Bangladeshi investigators until December 2015 when she obtained records from the US, Bangladesh, Singapore, Switzerland, and Canada.

Referring to defendant Selim Bhuiyan’s 2008 court deposition, Griffith wrote in her statement that Selim was approached and offered a bribe by Niko Vice-President for South Asia Qasim Sharif at businessman Giasuddin Al Mamoon’s office.

“Bhuiyan stated that Qasim Sharif promised them financial benefits if they could assist with their proposal for gas exploration rights. Bhuiyan told the judge that his job was to get various government approvals for Niko. Bhuiyan stated that later he and Mamoon went to visit his friend, AKM Mosharraf Hossain, the then state minister for energy and minerals, and sought his cooperation.”

Griffith further wrote quoting Selim’s testimony that the junior minister agreed to cooperate and from that point on, he and Mamoon regularly received updates from Mosharraf on the deal.

In 2003, according to the FBI special agent’s report, Qasim Sharif deposited approximately $500,000 (around Tk3 crore) into Selim’s Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) account in Bangladesh as kickbacks after the Bapex-Niko Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) was signed.

Selim testified in court that Tk1.08 crore from those funds was given to Mamoon through a pay order and later other amounts in cash and cheques.

“Bhuiyan stated that he believed the funds given to Mamoon would be shared with people close to the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and her son Tarique Rahman. Mosharraf was given Tk60 lakh from that same account while Bhuiyan kept the remaining Tk60 lakh as his own “lobbying” fee.

“My investigation revealed that money from accounts controlled by Qasim Sharif was transferred to Selim Bhuiyan. There is evidence that these payments represent bribe payments paid to intermediaries for the ultimate benefit of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Tarique Rahman and others,” Griffith wrote in her statement.

The statement also reads that investigations revealed that in 2003, Khaleda and Mosharraf gave “verbal orders to the government officials directing them to sign the JVA between Niko and Bapex.”

Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) Peace Officer Kevin Duggan, of the International Anti-Corruption Unit of the force, told a Canadian court in 2017 he came across an account statement for Selim Bhuiyan’s SCB account which a withdrawal of Tk10.8 million on January 7, 2004, by him via a pay order. Mamoon’s bank statement showed a deposit for the same amount with the “same order number” on January 8, he said. 

“I read a credit card account statement dated September 26, 2006, for a Citibank credit card in the name of “Md Giasuddin Al-Mamoon, care of Rahman Group of Industries” of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The statement showed that this account pertained to credit cards held by Md G Al Mamoon and Tarique Rahman,” reads the affidavit.

What was Moudud’s role?

According to both FBI and RCMP reports, Moudud played a key role behind Canada-based Niko securing the contract to explore gas fields in Bangladesh.

Moudud’s law firm Moudud Ahmed & Associates was a consultant for Niko.

In her statement filed with the US DOJ, FBI Special Agent Griffith wrote that in late 2001, the Petrobangla and Bapex said that the JVA can be only issued without Chattak East Gas Field and it would have to be subject to a “Swiss Challenge” process for competitive bidding. The state entities maintained the stance until 2003.

According to the FBI investigator, Niko refused to agree and the company would “most certainly” have lost to any bidder as it was not technically and financially sound.

“Khaleda Zia’s Law Minister, Moudud Ahmed, subsequently changed the position held by Petrobangla and Bapex through a legal opinion on the field of use.

“Moudud Ahmed & Associates continued to represent Niko and Moudud Ahmed continued to receive payment from Niko while he was the law minister,” reads the statement.

Griffith, a former FBI special agent, said that during the investigation she found that on Jan 15, 2002, Niko transferred $8,315 to Moudud’s bank account.

In August 2002, Moudud’s law firm ‘Moudud Ahmed & Associates’ wrote a letter arguing that Chattak East should be considered part of the Chattak Gas Field, according to the US investigator.

On August 25, 2003, minister Moudud issued an opinion stating that Chattak East was a marginally producing gas field, Griffith said in the statement.

“I learned that this opinion was contrary to the opinions of Bapex geologists, who claimed the East fields were unexplored and thus could not be deemed marginal,” it reads.

The FBI probe concludes that Moudud was “still literally” on Niko’s payroll when he was making a decision in their favour while holding a public office.

“I obtained records which revealed that during this time frame, Moudud's wife, Hasna, purchased a $400,000 home in the US. Moudud Ahmed's government salary during this time frame was approximately $9,500 per year,” Griffith said in the statement.

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