As many as 155 tonnes of rice seized in the port city while being smuggled out of government depots was packed in jute sacks bearing the insignia of the Directorate General of Food.
The directorate, however, claimed the rice seized from seven trucks was not theirs.
Meanwhile, a Chittagong court yesterday sent the manager of the Halisahar central storage depot (CSD), from where the rice was allegedly stolen, and four truckers to jail in connection with the incident.
In another development, Rapid Action Battalion-7 last evening seized another truck loaded with 13.5 tonnes of rice in 270 sacks from the city. The vehicle was left abandoned in Akbar Shah area.
The question remains: who owns the rice packed in sacks inscribed with the words “For the Directorate General of Food”?
Officials of the directorate yesterday inspected all 126 government food depots in Chittagong and found their rice stock intact.
Mahbubur Rahman, regional food comptroller of the directorate, said they found 2,104 tonnes of rice and 2,799 tonnes of wheat in the warehouses which matched their ledger.
Rab-7 officials said a total of 3,096 sacks of rice was seized from the seven trucks on Monday evening and Tuesday from Halisahar and City Gate areas. The Rab picked up CSD Manager Pranayan Chakma and four truckers during the drive.
According to Rab-7 Assistant Director Mimtanur Rahman, all the sacks bore the seal of the Directorate General of Food.
CASE FILED AGAINST EIGHT
The Rab filed a case with Halishahar Police Station yesterday under the Special Powers Act, 1974, accusing eight people of rice theft.
The accused are CSD Manager Pranayan, Assistant Manager Fakhrul Alam, ricer traders Sahabuddin Sawdagor, Nuru Sawdagor and four truckers.
Rab-7 Commanding Officer Lt Col Miftah Uddin Ahmed said they had information that 12 rice-laden trucks went out of the CSD on Monday evening, but they could seize only seven.
He said the CSD manager claimed during primary interrogation he was not aware of the incident. Deputy Manager Fakhrul dealt with the matter, Miftah quoted the arrestee as saying.
WHERE THE RICE CAME FROM?
The Daily Star correspondents yesterday visited the Halisahar CSD and talked to some officials there to know where the rice came from.
Seeking anonymity, a directorate official said the 126 depots had a total capacity of 1.16 lakh tonnes, but most part of the silos was empty. So taking advantage of this, some black marketers may have stocked their foodstuff in the government silos with the help of some depot officials.
According to the first information record (FIR) of the case, the CSD manager said black marketers stocked rice in the government depots in connivance with some depot officials. He said 180 tonnes of rice was dispatched from the Halisahar CSD on Monday evening.
He gave Rab officials the names of traders Sahabuddin Sawdagor, owner of Khwaza Bhandar Rice Dealer in the city's Pahartoli, and Nuru Sawdagor, proprietor of Kashem Flour Mills in Chaktai. The two have been on the run.
About the source of the seized rice, another food directorate official said it might have been collected from some people who got official delivery orders (DO) against the government's various food aid programmes and later sold the staple to the traders illegally.
Regional Food Controller Mahbubur, however, said Rab officials seized the vehicles from outside the CSD.
“So it's not clear whether the trucks went out from the CSD. Nobody can stock rice illegally in government depots.
“The manager and the assistant manager of a CSD can tell better if there is any illegal stock in it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of Chittagong Shahadat Hossain Bhuiyan yesterday sent the five arrestees to jail when police produced them before him.
The court directed police to submit a report to it in this regard by August 8, said Nirmalendu Chakraborty, additional deputy commissioner (prosecution) of Chittagong Metropolitan Police.
It ordered the Halisahar CSD director to keep the seized rice in his custody, the CMP official added.