Bangladeshi citizens living or working abroad are actively involved in a number of abduction rackets that target other Bangladeshi migrants, according to police.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police has received several abduction and ransom complaints from the families of the victims in the past few months, said Molla Nazrul Islam, special superintendent (organised crime) at the CID.
“In the last five or six months, we have received several complaints that Bangladeshis are operating kidnapping rackets in South Africa, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Malaysia – kidnapping fellow Bangladeshis and demanding ransom from their families,” he told the Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday.
In most cases, the families paid the ransom, usually through illegal means.
“This trend is a cause for concern. We are investigating these complaints,” he added.
Although confirming about the abduction rings, the CID is still not sure if they are connected to human trafficking and migrant smuggling rackets in those regions.
[caption id="attachment_59992" align="aligncenter" width="850"]
A group of migrant workers are seen returning home from the Middle East. The picture was captured at Shahjalal International Airport on May 16, 2013 Syed Zakir Hossain
The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has been working on cases like this for years.
In the last few years, with the help of Interpol and local law enforcement agencies, RAB has rescued 20 Bangladeshi abductees in Syria, Libya, Oman, South Africa and Mozambique.
Sources said these rackets coordinate with associates in Bangladesh who lure the victims to the target countries with lucrative job offers – mainly in Europe and the Middle East.
In most cases, the workers migrate to these countries illegally – usually with a tourist visa, they added.
“These gangs kidnap Bangladeshi migrant workers and demand a hefty sum for ransom,” said Lt Col Khandakar Golam Sarwar, former commanding officer of RAB 3. “They usually do this with the help of the corrupt officials of the local law enforcement agencies.”
One such victim is Mahbubul Alam, who was rescued by RAB, Interpol and Malaysian police on December 1, 2016 from a forest in Penang, a state in Malaysia, five days after being abducted from his residence in Kuantan, the capital city of Penang.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Mahbubul said he had been picked up by some Malaysians posing as law enforcement officers.
Neither the Malaysian authorities nor the victim was able to confirm if the abductors were indeed a part of Malaysian law enforcement.
A tale of nightmare
Dipu Islam, a 23-year-old man from Bhairab, Kishoreganj, went to Libya in November 2016, hoping to find a better life.
Since Libya is not officially taking migrant workers from Bangladesh, he went on a tourist visa with the help of Zafar Ahmed, an agent who took him to the Libyan capital of Tripoli himself with the promise that he would find good jobs.
However, once he reached Tripoli, Dipu’s illusions shattered. He struggled to find work for five months before a relative named Akkas Ali took him in. Akkas assured him that they would find work in Italy.
Akkas first travelled to Italy on a boat and reached the country on April 15 this year. He called Dipu and gave him the go-ahead to start his travel.
Dipu set out for the journey on the same day and was close to the sea when he was picked up by the local police.
He was travelling without a passport because his agent Zafar had taken it from him and never gave it back.
The Italian police then handed Dipu over to a Bangladeshi group, who called his family on April 17 around 2am demanding Tk2 lakh as ransom, Dipu’s elder brother Kazi Jahangir Alam told the Dhaka Tribune.
He said Dipu told them that the police had sold him to the Bangladeshi gang, and if his family did not pay the money, he would be killed.
“We were so hopeless and could find no help. So we paid the ransom as soon as we could.”
After receiving the money, the abductors let Dipu go, Jahangir said. Dipu is now in Italy, presumably still without a passport.
Unusual financial transactions led CID to Dipu’s family
Dipu’s family paid the ransom to his kidnappers by depositing the money to a bank account in Bangladesh that was being watched by the CID due to unusual transactions.
Sources said the CID received a suspicious transaction report (STR) from Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) of Bangladesh Bank a few months ago and started to watch certain accounts.
The BFIU is responsible for analysing STRs, cash transaction reports (CTRs), and information on money laundering and financing of terrorism, and forwarding them to relevant law enforcement agencies.
Investigating the suspicious accounts led the CID to Dipu’s family, and gradually they learnt of 15 other similar cases.
Based on information linked with Dipu’s case, the CID arrested three people suspected to be members of the gang that kidnapped Dipu in Shibchar area of Madaripur on April 20.
The suspects are Mujibor Jomaddar, his wife Nurjahan and their son-in-law Hannan Miah.
CID Special Superintendent Molla Nazrul said Mujibor went to Libya via the UAE, Turkey and Jordan on a tourist visa in March 2014. He returned to Bangladesh in October 2016 and opened three bank accounts.
“In the last six months, Mujibor received more than Tk50 lakh, which raised the alarm,” Nazrul said. So, the BFIU informed the CID about it and led them to the suspects.
Furthermore, the CID found that six or seven family members of Mujibor’s, including his son Raihan Jomaddar and younger brother Dadon Jomaddar, were involved with the abduction ring in Libya.
Nazrul said they filed a money laundering case in this regard with Shibchar police station on April 20, since the CID is the only department of Bangladesh Police authorised to investigate money laundering cases.
“We filed the money laundering case because it puts more pressure on the suspects or accused to prove their innocence and reveal the source of their money,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
If the victim’s family filed an abduction case against the suspects, the CID would take charge of that investigation as well, he added.
What is being done to stop it?
Molla Nazrul said they were monitoring suspicious bank activities.
“We have information on similar accounts as Mujibor’s; we will ask the BFIU to give us information on more suspicious bank transactions,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to RAB data, the elite force has already prepared a 15-point recommendation to the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment on how to stop illegal migration and human trafficking.
RAB also recommended that the ministry collaborates with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find a solution in this regard.
These two ministries have always claimed to be working together to protect the rights of Bangladeshi migrant workers and their safety abroad.
However, cases like Dipu Islam’s prove that what they are doing is hardly effective, said Dipu’s family.