The seat of independent lawmaker Mohammad Shahid Islam, also known as Kazi Papul, has been vacated yesterday on grounds of moral turpitude.
The parliament secretariat issued a gazette notification to that end yesterday afternoon following a meeting between Speaker Shirin Sharmin and top officials of the secretariat, Zafar Ahmed Khan, senior secretary at the parliament secretariat, told The Daily Star.
The gazette has been in effect from January 28, 2021 -- the day Kazi Papul, lawmaker from Laxmipur-2, was sentenced to four years of rigorous imprisonment by a Kuwaiti court for human trafficking and bribing Kuwaiti officials.
This is the second time in the history of parliament that the membership of a lawmaker was cancelled on grounds of moral turpitude, sources at the parliament secretariat said.
Earlier, the Jatiya Sangsad cancelled the membership of HM Ershad, late president and founder of Jatiya Party, as he was sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years in connection with the Janata Tower scam, they told this correspondent.
In the gazette regarding Papul's vacated seat, it was mentioned that, as per articles 66 and 67 of the constitution, a member of parliament shall vacate their seat if they are convicted of a criminal offence involving moral turpitude "by a competent court" and is sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.
The parliament secretariat has sent the gazette to the Election Commission secretariat.
Sources at the EC told The Daily Star that they have received the gazette and will take necessary measures, including a by-election in the constituency.
Earlier on February 19, Zafar Ahmed Khan said the parliament is going to take a decision on membership of Papul within two to three days, around three weeks after the Kuwait court sentenced him to four years in prison in a bribery case.
Papul's wife Selina Islam, also a lawmaker from reserved seats for women in parliament, was fined 1.97 million Kuwaiti dinars (Tk 55 crore) by the court in the case on January 28.
The copy of the verdict on his conviction reached Jatiya Sangsad Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury on February 18.
On February 19, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told media that his ministry received the 61-page verdict -- both in Arabic and English -- and sent it to the Jatiya Sangsad speaker and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Kuwait's criminal court had delivered the verdict around eight months after Kuwait's Criminal Investigation Department arrested Papul, the managing director and CEO of Marafie Kuwaitia Group.
He was accused of human trafficking, money laundering and bribing Kuwaiti officials with millions of dollars to recruit Bangladeshi workers and get contracts for his company, labour exploitation and also violation of the residence law.
The others sentenced in the case include Kuwait interior ministry's Assistant Under-Secretary Maj Gen Mazen Al-Jarrah, and Nawaf Al-Mutairi, Hassan Al-Khader and Papul's associate Mohammad Rashidul Islam, a Bangladeshi.
Papul faces two more cases -- one for human trafficking and the other for money laundering -- in Kuwait.
He is also being investigated by Bangladesh's Anti-Corruption Commission for allegedly amassing Tk 1,400 crore by trafficking people to Kuwait and laundering money to different countries.
'CRIMES, POWER ABUSE' BY PAPUL
Quoting Arabic newspaper Al Qabas, Kuwaiti news portal The Times reported that Papul is estimated to have obtained KD (Kuwaiti Dinar) 5 million in assets in Kuwait. During investigations, all his bank accounts and those of his company were frozen.
According to sources in Kuwait and Lakshmipur, Papul went to Kuwait in 1989 as a worker and eventually started working as a recruitment broker and later established companies. He ran four companies involved in providing cleaners through government contracts in Kuwait, employing 9,000 workers.
Sources in Kuwait and Laxmipur said he had no involvement in politics back home before 2016 but earned a fortune by then through illegal means.
Papul invested crores of taka to prevent other potential candidates in the Laxmipur-2 constituency and became an independent MP in the 2018 national election. His wife Selina Islam did the same to become an MP from the reserved seats for women.
According to witness accounts in the case against Papul, he was part of an "organised gang" made up of two Kuwaitis and himself. They used a company to recruit workers from Bangladesh through fraudulence in exchange for payments ranging between KD 2,500 and KD 2,700 for each, reported The Times.
The trio occupied sensitive positions in three major companies that took over 20,000 Bangladeshi workers to Kuwait in exchange for more than KD 50 million. Although the company was closed due to legal violations, the workers landed in Kuwait to discover their visas were fake. They were forcibly employed in another company owned by Papul.
Eleven Bangladeshis taken to Kuwait by Papul testified to the court about the exploitation. The workers were charged money for renewing residential visas and even forced to work against their will for long working hours in inhumane working conditions without wages or were provided with inadequate housing facilities.
Papul also allegedly attacked those who objected to his views and threatened them with false cases.
Back home, in response to a complaint filed on February 16 last year, the Anti-Corruption Commission opened an inquiry into an allegation against Papul for amassing Tk 1,400 crore by trafficking people to Kuwait and laundering the money to different countries.
On December 28, a Dhaka Court ordered the freezing of 617 bank accounts and 92 deeds of immoveable properties of Papul, following a petition filed by the ACC.
Speaking to this correspondent, Iftakharuzzaman, executive director, Transparency International Bangladesh said, "The action was obvious and long expected. But it should not be treated as the end of the road to justice of a former MP whose crimes, especially money laundering and human trafficking, have brought on so much disrepute to the country, his political peers and of course the parliament."