Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The Dark Prince and his ‘Hawa Bhaban’

This is the first of a three-part series on corruption and an atmosphere of lawlessness during the 2001-06 period based on documentary evidence

Update : 16 Mar 2024, 07:06 PM

Several senior BNP leaders have recently claimed that all charges of corruption, election engineering and patronization of terrorist activities against the party's acting chairman, Tarique Rahman and his "Hawa Bhaban" were false and baseless.

On Sunday, BNP's International Affairs Secretary Barrister Rumeen Farhana dismissed the allegations of corruption and money laundering against Tarique as unproven.

"These are part of political propaganda. There is no evidence, or document. Nothing! What did the government do [to prove the allegations] all these years?" she questioned while taking part in a TV talk show. She also highlighted the large sum of money laundered abroad during the incumbent government's tenure.

Recently, Legal Affairs Secretary of the BNP's Executive Council Barrister Kaiser Kamal said on a YouTube talk show of DW Bangla that Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman used to visit the "Hawa Bhaban" office regularly. Nothing wrong has taken place at the office.


"It's a media creation…it's a gimmick by some high-ambitious people who dislike the BNP. There is no evidence. I admit that many cases have been filed. But, these are false and baseless. Nowadays, verdicts are not being delivered based on proper evaluation," he added.

However, several senior BNP politicians, Dhaka's US embassy officials, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the media during 2001-08 revealed that Tarique and his notorious associates had made "Hawa Bhaban" an alternative powerhouse that took many crucial decisions bypassing the laws of the land.

In 2005, for the fifth consecutive year, the non-governmental organization Transparency International named Bangladesh the world's most corrupt country. During the tenure, the World Bank cancelled funding for three development projects, blaming government corruption for its decision. Hundreds of journalists were harassed, intimidated and attacked by state agents and non-state actors, including Islamist groups, for reporting the corruption. 

Following the ascent of the BNP-Jamaat alliance to power in 2001, Khaleda Zia, the then-prime minister and chairperson of the BNP, set up her political secretariat in a building named "Hawa Bhaban" on Banani Road 13. Before that, the building was used by her elder son as his political campaign office.

With tight security at the entrance, the building soon became the powerhouse of the government, thanks to the "Dark Prince" and his cronies. Then it became plagued by rampant corruption, ruthless vengeance, patronization of terrorism, and abuse of power, and consequently, led to the arrest of the BNP's top brass, including the mother and her two sons. The BNP's freefall in the 2008 election was evident.

‘Wind Tunnel'

PMO Principal Secretary Kamal Uddin Siddiqui referred to Tarique as "Wind Tunnel", a translation of the name of his "Hawa Bhaban" office.

"Wind Tunnel has some psycho friends" that he listens to because of his lack of experience, Siddiqui said, describing Tarique as "unsophisticated and dangerous". He was talking to the then-US ambassador on March 14, 2005.

The envoy informed Siddiqui that Tarique's request to arrange meetings with senior US government officials was not accommodated for protocol and other reasons.

Siddiqui wholeheartedly agreed, adding: "Dynastic politics are not good for a nascent democracy." He described PM Zia's indulgence and protection of her "corrupt" son as her "biggest political failure."

Poor human rights record

Before and after Tarique's arrest, the military-backed caretaker government investigated corruption charges against him and remanded him in custody. His cohorts, like Harris Chowdhury and Giasuddin Al Mamun, were also grilled.

After being released from jail on parole on the condition that he would never engage in politics, Tarique went to London on September 11, 2008, and has since been running the party from abroad.

A US embassy cable said that with deep political ties that reach the highest court in the land, Tarique managed to manipulate the judicial process and overcome a concerted effort by the caretaker government to block his bail.

"Notorious for flagrantly and frequently demanding bribes in connection with government procurement actions and appointments to political office, Tarique is a symbol of kleptocratic government and violent politics in Bangladesh," said former ambassador James F Moriarty.

The government also awarded impunity to the perpetrators involved in violence against Awami League supporters, Hindu and Ahmadiyya communities, women, journalists and the marginalized ethnic communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the plains, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Escalating levels of violence, including several waves of bombings, combined with a lack of appropriate action by the authorities pushed Bangladesh to the edge of a human rights crisis, Amnesty said. In February 2005, the government banned two militant groups – JMB and JMJB – for attacks on NGOs and non-Muslim communities.

In a report, the HRW said: "Political and security conditions deteriorated in Bangladesh in 2005. The country saw nearly daily bombings throughout the year", including the simultaneous blasts in 63 districts, all of them targeted at government institutions, by the JMB.

The New York-based rights group said: "The country's human rights record, already of pressing concern, worsened, as Bangladesh's security forces continue to commit numerous abuses, including extra-judicial killings, excessive use of force, and custodial torture. Human rights defenders and journalists who report on the abuses continue to be harassed and intimidated."

A ban on entry

In November 2008, US envoy James F Moriarty sought a security advisory opinion under Section 212(F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Presidential Proclamation 7750, suspending the entry of Tarique Rahman into the US.

Blaming Tarique for dozens of specific allegations, the ambassador said Tarique's "flagrant corruption" has also seriously threatened specific US Mission goals.

"Embassy Dhaka has three key priorities for Bangladesh: democratization, development, and denial of space to terrorists. Tarique's audaciously corrupt activities jeopardize all three.

"His history of embezzlement, extortion, and interference in the judicial process undermines the rule of law and threatens to upend the US goal of a stable, democratic Bangladesh. The climate of corrupt business practices and bribe solicitation that Tarique fostered derailed US efforts to promote economic development by discouraging much-needed foreign investment and complicating the international operations of US companies.

"Finally, his flagrant disregard for the rule of law has provided potent ground for terrorists to gain a foothold in Bangladesh while also exacerbating poverty and weakening democratic institutions. In short, much of what is wrong in Bangladesh can be blamed on Tarique and his cronies."

Moriarty suggested that applying a 212(F) finding to Tarique Rahman supports the US' strong stand against corruption in Bangladesh. "Embassy recommends that Tarique Rahman be found subject to Presidential Proclamation 7750 for participating in public official corruption as defined by Section 1, Paragraph (c) of the Proclamation," read the cable.

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