Bangladeshi authorities seem remarkably unconcerned about the shocking charges against the lawmaker
News about a Bangladeshi lawmaker allegedly operating a human trafficking racket first surfaced in February this year.
Responding to a query on the floor of the national parliament on February 16, our Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen is on record as saying: "We have heard that it is a fake news. We don’t have any information. The Bangladeshi mission in Kuwait has not informed us about anything like that."
Credit to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which rose above that unsubstantiated "fake news" notion and took it upon itself to open an inquiry on February 27 into the allegation of Mohammad Shahid Islam, the lawmaker who goes by his nickname Papul, amassing Tk1,400 crore from human trafficking to Kuwait and laundering the money.
Since then, we heard next to nothing both from our foreign office and from the ACC until June 6, the day the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Kuwait detained Papul from the Mishref residential area of Kuwait City on serious charges of human trafficking and money laundering.
But the actions and reactions of our institutions with respect to one of our country’s lawmaker’s arrest and subsequent trafficking probe in a foreign land are too little and too late.
When media in Kuwait, in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula are all abuzz with tell-tale stories of Papul running a human trafficking racket, siphoning off millions of dollars, the foreign office in Bangladesh continues to refer to its mission in Kuwait's inability to garner any information from the Kuwaiti authorities about Papul and his under-investigation crimes.
The current Covid-19 pandemic situation has constantly been shown as a pretext for Bangladesh’s not being able to get information from Kuwait. But this excuse holds little water.
If the media reports in Kuwait are anything to go by, the pandemic is no way any hindrance to Kuwaiti authorities. Their crime-busting apparatus is doggedly pursuing a case (involving Papul) that the Gulf nation, a key destination for Bangladesh’s expatriate labour, considers very urgent and important.
Unfortunately, somehow that sense of urgency is missing on our part here in Bangladesh.
Only the other day, on June 23 the foreign minister termed Papul’s arrest on foreign soil as "shameful for the country," but again added: "Our ambassador to Kuwait is yet to give any official information. We want to know what the true story is and what the official version is. We will verify it once we know and we will take action according to our law."
Somehow one can’t find any sense of urgency here when more than two weeks after the arrest of a country’s lawmaker in another country, the government remains in the dark about the nature of the alleged crime committed and its length and breadth.
It’s equally frustrating to see that nearly four months after ACC opened an investigation file on Papul, we have learned nothing substantial.
Only his arrest in Kuwait on June 6 saw the ACC issuing a travel ban the following week on some of the MP’s immediate next of kin – one of whom happens to be Papul’s spouse Selina Islam, also an independent lawmaker from a reserved women’s seat.
Both Papul and Selina are first-time lawmakers, elected in the last parliamentary election.
Interestingly, the Awami League preferred fielding no candidate of their own against the independent candidate and moneyed business person Papul, only offering the party’s ally Jatiya Party to field one.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, that Jatiya Party candidate also withdrew from the race, albeit unofficially, giving a virtual walkover to Papul.
This couple must be doubly fortunate given the fact that Papul’s wife also became a reserved-seat lawmaker as an independent candidate.
Husband and wife both becoming parliamentarians without having any formal party tickets is a rarity in contemporary Bangladeshi politics.
The Kuwaiti media has reported that the Papul-led racket made in excess of $163 million by illegally sending 20,000 workers to Kuwait.
In addition, the Gulf state’s public prosecutor has quizzed Papul for eight days in custody and the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Anas Al-Saleh has vowed to go tough against "one of the largest cases of human trafficking."
All this leads to one question: Is Bangladesh pursuing the Papul case hard enough?