Biman men in gold smuggling racket
Detectives have found involvement of more than 60 officials and staff of Biman, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh and customs with a gold smuggling racket at Shahjalal International Airport.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines staff -- from captain to cabin crew -- and Caab security officials have links with the syndicate, according to officials of DB police, customs intelligence and Armed Police Battalion (APBn).
At least 12 other rackets are active in smuggling gold through the country's premier airport, they said.
“The biggest gold smuggling syndicate includes Biman officials and staffs at different levels … The other syndicates are not that big,” said an investigator, asking not to be named.
Almost all big hauls of smuggled gold were made from flights of the national carrier.
Captains, first officers, cabin crew, flight schedulers and even engineers of Biman have links with this syndicate. Officials of Caab and airport customs are also involved with it, said the investigator.
In a 12-hour operation at Shahjalal airport, Uttara and Bashundhara since Tuesday evening, detectives arrested five members of the racket, who include three Biman high-ups.
The trio are Captain Abu Mohammad Aslam Shaheed, chief of planning and scheduling, Emdad Hossain, deputy general manager (flight services), and Tozammel Hossain, manager (scheduling).
The other arrestees are Mahmudul Haque Palash, an influential Biman contractor close to many Biman high-ups, and Md Harunur Rashid, owner of “Farhan Money”, a money exchange firm in Uttara.
All five arrestees were produced before a Dhaka court. The investigators sought their 10-day remand but the court granted four days for each.
Wishing anonymity, an investigator said Palash is godson of a powerful member of Biman board of directors, and had influence in the airline as well as at the airport.
DB Senior Assistant Commissioner Minhazul Islam said Palash worked as a coordinator of the gold smuggling ring.
The arrests came a couple of days after detained Biman crew Mazharul Afsar alias Russel gave a magistrate the names of people allegedly involved in gold smuggling. He was arrested on November 12 with five gold bars weighing 2.6 kilograms.
In a confessional statement to the magistrate on November 17, Russel gave names of 61 staff of Biman and Caab allegedly involved in gold and currency smuggling.
Dr Moinul Khan, director general of customs intelligence, said they seized 677 kg gold and arrested 88 people at the country's three international airports in the last 17 months. A section of the arrestees are staff of Biman and Caab.
Besides, APBn personnel seized 112 kg gold and arrested at least 25 people in the last two years at Shahjalal airport, said officials.
Last month, a four-member probe body headed by Moinul found the involvement of 14 people, including 10 low-level officials and staff of Biman, in the smuggling of 124 kg gold worth Tk 54 crore.
The National Board of Revenue initiated the probe after the largest ever gold haul at Shahjalal airport on July 24.
In its 523-page report to the NBR on October 26, the probe body recommended punitive measures against the 14 people.
Asked whether the authorities took action against the 10 Biman staff, its acting managing director AM Mosaddique Ahmed yesterday said they didn't as they were yet to receive any compliant against them from the government.
Referring to the latest arrest of the three Biman officials, he said action would be taken against them in line with the existing rules.
Seeking anonymity, another Biman official said if the allegations against the Biman staff are proved in court, they will lose jobs.
DB PRESS BRIEFING
Talking to reporters, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam said names of many top-ranking Biman officials came up during primary interrogation of the five arrestees.
"We are checking the information with the reports of intelligence agencies." They would be arrested if they are found involved in gold smuggling, said the official.
In reply to a query about close ties between Palash and a member of Biman Board, Monirul said, "Legal steps would be taken against all the persons whose names come up in the investigation. It doesn't matter how powerful they are or what positions they hold."
Minhazul Islam, senior assistant commissioner of DB, said Shafiul Azam Talukder Mintu, a Bangladeshi living in the United Arab Emirates, bought gold in Dubai and smuggled it to Bangladesh through this syndicate.
Some Biman officials decided on the routes and the methods of smuggling that gold into the country, said Minhazul, also investigating officer of the 2.6 kg gold smuggling case.
Rashid, the owner of “Farhan Money”, made major investments in the illegal trade, and had gold smuggled to India via Bangladesh, he added.