The art of cargo theft | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 24, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:05 AM, November 24, 2020

The art of cargo theft

How a syndicate kept stealing imported goods from containers at Mongla Port

A syndicate has long been stealing imported goods after breaking the locks of containers at the Mongla Port and selling those in the local market, a DB investigation found.

At least a dozen port staffers -- including three traffic inspectors, two crane operators and two tally men -- and 15 C&F (customs and clearance) agents and five to six labour leaders are involved in this racket, investigators said. 

Officials came up with these findings after investigating a complaint of a businessman based in Dhaka's Islampur, Russell Rahman, regarding around 25,000kg of fabrics going missing from the Mongla Port.

Russell, owner of Aziz & Sons, told The Daily Star yesterday that he had ordered around 31,940kg of Torre fabrics from China in mid-August.

On September 6, when his C&F agents went to the port to unload the fabrics from the container, they found only 6,140kg of it and the rest had just vanished.

In the meantime, Russell found a shop owner in Islampur area of Dhaka selling same kind of fabrics, which he ordered from China.

"I got suspicious and sought support from the DB police in Dhaka. DB officials went to the shop and seized the cloth as the shopkeepers failed to provide any valid documents against the item," he said.

Police then arrested two businessmen -- Shamsul Arefin, 55, Monir Hossain, 33 -- for selling stolen fabrics and a case was also filed against them.

"We seized around 92,672 yards of fabrics from the shop. During interrogation, the shopkeepers disclosed that they have actually bought the cloth from Teri Bazar area of Chattogram and the seller's name is Abul Kashem," Saifur Rahman Azad, additional deputy commissioner of DB (Lalbagh division), told The Daily Star.

"Kashem got arrested and admitted that he actually bought this cloth from Arun, a C&F agent of Mongla Port," said the DB official.

Investigators said per yard of Torre fabric of China is supposed to sell in local market at Tk 70. But the C&F agent Arun sold it to Kashem at Tk 48 and Kashem then sold it to Shamsul and Monir at Tk 58.

Detectives also arrested a labour leader named Sagor, 45, who has been working at the port for 26 years with around 500 workers under his wings.

ADC Saifur said the labourers help the syndicate members unload the goods after they break the lock of a container. "We have found names of around five to six labour leaders, who are involved in this."

He further said they have got some information about the syndicate members based in Chattogram, Mongla and Islampur, and are now working to trace them.

"We have also come to know that Islampur market in Dhaka is not the last destination of these stolen fabrics. It goes to different other places, including in Narayanganj and Narsingdi," he added.

ROLE OF C&F AGENTS

C&F agents release port goods on behalf of importers and they deliver those to the given addresses.

For example, if a container of toys needs to be unloaded from the port, the C&F agent will first take customs clearance and then hire a truck to deliver the goods to the importers.

But the agent linked to the syndicate hires an extra truck.

On the day of unloading the goods, he will place his customs-cleared container beside another container, goods from which is supposed to be unloaded later by another C&F agent.

During the time of unloading the toys, the syndicate members break the locks of the second container and load its products on the additional truck.

NO BAR CODE

Hussain Ahmed, commissioner of Mongla Port Customs House, told this newspaper that they have detected around eight to 10 such cases in the last six months. They sometimes found the containers totally empty.

Regarding the theft of 25,000kg fabrics, he said they have found an "interesting thing" while investigating the case.

"When the container was sent from China, there was a white paper on its lock with an order code and a barcode. But it was changed after the container reached the Mongla port," he said.

There was a paper with order code on the lock but it contained no barcode, said the commissioner.

The importer also confirmed this, saying the Chinese company had sent him a picture. 

"We want to stop the practice and that is why we've already filed a case regarding the theft of 25,000kg cloth," added the commissioner.

Sultan Ahmed, president of Mongla Port Customs Clearance and Forwarding Agents Association, told this newspaper that it is a fact that some of the C&F agents are involved in the theft racket.

"We have communicated with the port authorities a number of times seeking action but no steps were taken for a mysterious reason," he said.

Asked about the alleged involvement of port staffers in the theft of goods, Rear Admiral M Shahjahan, the chairman of Mongla Port Authority, said, "We would definitely take action if any report comes to us."

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