From Casio to arms | The Daily Star
12:02 AM, January 30, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

From Casio to arms

From Casio to arms

Babar said to be no stranger to crime world

Right after the 10-truck arms haul in April 2004, then state minister for home affairs Lutfozzaman Babar appeared apparently too surprised to see the lethal weapons. Photo: File
Right after the 10-truck arms haul in April 2004, then state minister for home affairs Lutfozzaman Babar appeared apparently too surprised to see the lethal weapons. Photo: File

A young man with origins in Netrakona, reluctant about studying beyond class-X, Lutfozzaman Babar, accused in the 10-truck arms haul cases, ventured into smuggling in the 1980s.
Already from a well-off family, he made a fortune by smuggling digital watches, especially of Casio brand, into the country in bulk when autocrat HM Ershad was at the helm of the country, claimed people who were close to Babar.
In 1996, Babar apparently washed off his smuggler image, joined the central committee of the BNP through lobbying and became a lawmaker from Netrakona-4 constituency.
To the surprise of many in 2001, he was made state minister for home affairs, the person responsible for stopping, among other crimes, smuggling. Some even thought Babar, the youngest minister in the BNP-Jamaat government, had changed for the best and that the street smart Babar would be good at curbing crime.
But black will take no other hue.
A few years after the 10-truck arms haul in 2004, investigations

during the caretaker government regime indicated that Babar was very much involved in the smuggling of arms meant for a separatist group in the eastern part of India.
Reaching the scene where the arms and ammo were captured, he had said the weapons were smuggled in as part of a conspiracy for subversion. He did not rule out any link to the April 30 deadline the main opposition Awami League had set for toppling the BNP-led government.
Later, he formed a probe committee which had a person alleged to have involvement in the smuggling itself.
His “Banglish” quips like “we are looking for shotrus [enemies]” made the nation chuckle and gave the impression that Babar was a simpleton in a high place.
But actually, he is a smooth talker who knows who he should invest in and how.
Back in his smuggling days in the 1980s, he supposedly established a bond with then first-lady Raushan Ershad, now leader of the opposition in parliament. He called her "mother" to get into her good graces, which he reportedly used for smuggling through Dhaka airport.
According to Babar's close associates, he lived in Moghbazar with his family members since childhood. He left the area after becoming state minister for home in 2001. During his stay in Moghbazar, Babar came in touch with Arman, a top criminal of Moghbazar, and reportedly used him to smuggle gold.
Being the state minister, he also allegedly used another top criminal Pichchi Hannan for various criminal offences. Babar gave him protection even though he was the number-1 accused in the ward commissioner Khaled Imam murder case, said people who knew Babar well then.
Babar enjoyed the blessings of Tarique Rahman, son of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, and his Hawa Bhaban, the alternative centre of power during the last BNP rule.
He was involved in tender manipulation, recruitment, promotion, land-grabbing and purchase procedures. He was a pioneer in the formation of the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and widely criticised for introducing extra-judicial killings.
However, he became infamous during the last caretaker government rule when it was revealed that Babar had taken a Tk 21 crore bribe from Bashundhara Group in return for not implicating Shafiat Sobhan, the son of the group's chairman, in a murder case.
The army-led joint forces arrested Babar in 2007 and recovered four illegal firearms, two magazines, and 297 bullets.
Babar was released on bail before the 9th parliamentary elections on December 29, 2008. He contested the polls as an independent in Netrakona-4 and was defeated badly.
After the election, his bail was cancelled. He was sued by the Anti-Corruption Commission for hiding wealth worth about Tk 7.6 crore.
Later, he was handed down 17 years' rigorous imprisonment for possessing illegal arms and ammunition.
Babar is facing at least four more cases involving arms, smuggling, explosives and murder.
He was an accused in the 10-truck arms haul cases through a supplementary charge sheet in 2011 following a reinvestigation of the cases.

The report is based on confessional statements, depositions, charges, verdicts, first information reports and people who knew Babar well.

 

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