4-party bigwigs were in plot, accused say
The process of 2004 botched attempt to transport 10-truck load of arms and ammunition to the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) started in late 2001, involving some big time political honchos of the last four-party government, according to confessional statements of two persons accused in the Chittagong arms haul case.
The two accused -- Md Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammad -- also said on Monday afternoon that the huge cache of weapons was being smuggled under the direct supervision of Ulfa leader Paresh Barua, who was residing in Dhaka back then.
Ministries for home and industries under the 4-party government, some high officials of intelligence agencies concerned, and the coast guard were well aware of the smuggling which also involved a former Jatiya Party MP, and a film director, the accused two said in the confessional statements to the Metropolitan Magistrate Md Osman Gani.
In the 10-page confessional statement one of the principal accused Hafizur Rahman claimed to have given the same statement on different occasions divulging the truth behind the case, since his surrender on October 25, 2005.
But, the confession was never recorded, instead the officials concerned warned him against making such statements in the future, threatening him with death as well, sources said quoting from Hafiz's statement.
Three others including one Ashik, and one Jewel with a mongoloid appearance, received the delivery of the arms cache from a ship near Saint Martin's Island, and guided two engine boats, loading them with the weapons, up to the jetty of Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited (CUFL) across the River Karnaphuli, said Hafiz.
Hazi Sobhan provided the engine boats while Din Mohammad, and another local resident identified as Arju alias Pagla Arju hired the labourers and the trucks from Md Yakub, for offloading and transporting the arms supply, said the sources quoting from the confessional statements of Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammad.
Hafiz confessed, after getting involved in Jatiya Party, he got introduced to Azmal Huda Mithu, a film director.
A month before the October 2001 parliament election, Mithu invited Hafiz to a private event in his residence in the capital, and introduced Hafiz to former Jatiya Party MP Golam Faruk Obhi, and another man named Zaman.
Since Hafiz retuned to Chittagong the next day, Zaman kept contact with him over the phone.
Fifteen days into their introduction, Hafiz got a phone call from Zaman, and met him and Obhi in a fast food shop, Wimpy, in Dhaka. Following a proposal from them Hafiz agreed to help Zaman in receiving and transporting 'imports' the latter quite often used to get at Chittagong port.
After a several months interval, Zaman called Hafiz over the phone again, and met him on the third floor of Rapa Plaza in Dhaka sometime in January 2002, when they talked business.
Since then Zaman was paying Hafiz Tk 50 thousand to Tk 70 thousand a month.
At one stage of the increasing intimacy between the two, around a year later Zaman invited Hafiz to his residence in Dhanmondi of Dhaka. In his apartment, about half a kilometre behind 'UITS', Zaman introduced Hafiz to his wife, two children Babu and Aaksah of eight to ten years of age, and another 7-year old adopted son. He also gave Hafiz Tk 80,000 that time.
After paying some Tk 18 lakh in this way, Zaman finally called Hafiz to Dhaka to reveal his real identity in February 2004.
"As I met him in Rapa Plaza, Zaman this time around had with him a girl of about 10 years of age. He revealed himself as the Ulfa military wing chief Paresh Barua, and the girl as the daughter of Anup Chetia," said Hafiz in his confession.
Anup Chetia is one of the top leaders of Ulfa, detained in Bangladesh for quite a few years now since his arrest in the 1990s.
"Zaman or Paresh Barua also claimed that he looked after Anup's family, while some people of intelligence agencies ensured their safety," Hafiz continued to confess.
"On March 23 or 24, Paresh called for me on an emergency basis. I immediately rushed to Dhaka and rented a room in Red Star Hotel opposite Rajarbagh Police Line, and met him in Wimpy again."
"Paresh asked me to help him to transport a delivery of some machinery from a ship anchored in the sea near the Myanmar border near Saint's Martin Island. He also said the goods could not be brought to Chittagong port due to some technical problems. Asked about the required permission from the Bangladesh Navy, coast guard, customs authority, and the CUFL jetty authority, he said the NSI and DGFI chiefs had made all arrangements, and the jetty permission had also already been there, so no body would ask me any question," said Hafiz.
"I returned to the hotel and went to the same restaurant again early next morning. After some fifteen minutes, Paresh came with another person in a white car which had 'on test' written on the registration plate. The man with Paresh was introduced to me as Ashik. He gave me 50 lakh taka in four packets. Then I and Ashik went to Chittagong in the same car. Leaving Ashik in Golden Inn hotel in Chittagong I went to meet Hazi Sobhan, and rented two engine boats for around 13 lakh taka. Sobhan was to keep the engine boats ready near the Marine Academy pier. On March 28, I took Ashik and two other persons including one Jewel from the hotel to the pier in a taxi cab. We reached Saint Martin's Island on the engine boats the next morning. Jewel and the other guy guided the boats following a map."
"Around 10:30 that night a vessel came to our view. We approached the vessel and following directions given by Paresh, Ashik started talking to the captain in English. Following exchange of some codes which sounded like passwords, Ashik was allowed to anchor the boats next to the other vessel."
Half an hour later Ashik handed over some papers satisfying the captain of the other vessel and offloading of wooden boxes onto the engine boats started.
The offloading was completed around noon the next day, some 14 hours into the rendezvous, the date was March 30, 2004.
"Then the engine boats were re-anchored in the Bay of Bengal near Teknaf until we started back towards Chittagong in the early morning of March 31, 2004," said Hafiz.
"I and Sobhan got off the engine boats in Cox's Bazar and went to Chittagong in a microbus."
"As I contacted Ashik who was still with the boats, he expressed fear that they could be robbed or get caught. I talked to Paresh about the fear over the phone, and he assured me that the coast guards would protect and guide the engine boats. I conveyed the message to Ashik. Then I went to CUFL jetty area and made a deal with Arju, who took 9 lakh taka for providing me with some 25 labourers for transferring the boxes from the boats onto the trucks," Hafiz went on.
A vessel was being loaded with fartiliser at the CUFL jetty. But, they asked the vessel crew to move it aside to make room for the engine boats.
"I talked to Ashik over the phone and told him to moor the engine boats at the CUFL jetty around 9:00pm," Hafiz said.
As it was proving difficult to moor the engine boats due to pitch darkness of the night, lights were flashed from a coast guard vessel to help them moor safely.
Transferring of the wooden boxes filled with firearms and ammunition onto three trucks started right away, when Sergeant Alauddin and Sergeant Helal suddenly appeared.
"Replying to their queries I told them that the goods belonged to the government, and had the required permission," Hafiz said.
But the sergeants challenged Hafiz's claim, alleging that the goods were being smuggled from Myanmar.
"I contacted Paresh over the phone, and he asked me to put Ashik on the phone," Hafiz went on.
Following Paresh's direction, Ashik informed the sergeants that the goods were for Ulfa, and they had the required permission from the government.
But, the sergeants were intransigent and insisted on opening the boxes. As they opened them they found the firearms.
At that point Ashik urged the sergeants to talk to 'someone' over the phone, and even tried to offer them money in exchange for a safe passage.
But, the sergeants refused to talk to anybody other than the erstwhile deputy commissioner (port) of Chittagong metropolitan police.
"When I wanted to know why he didn't tell me about the illegal caches of arms being transported, Paresh told me that he had already talked to DGFI and NSI chiefs regarding the matter."
As the offloading continued, a good number of police arrived there by mid-night.
"Around 3:00am Paresh Barua phoned me again, and told me that everybody had betrayed him, asking me to leave the spot quietly," Hafiz said.
"I left the spot and went home through the River Karnaphuly. Paresh contacted me later and advised me to stay in hiding."
"I found my name in newspaper reports three days later, and the arms shipment was confiscated in the early hours of April 2, 2004."
"After charges were pressed against me, I surrendered to the High Court on October 26, 2005."
"I was shown arrested in a pending case, and was interrogated in the Taskforce Interrogation Cell, where I made the same confession as I am making now. But, the statement was not recorded," Hafiz said.
"They instead warned me against making such statements in the future, threatening to kill me if I disclosed anything regarding the matter," he added.
"I made the same statement when the erstwhile investigation officer CID ASP Mohammad Ismail interrogated me in remand at CID HQ," he said.
"But again instead of recording the statement, I was sent to jail custody. I want a proper probe and a trial of the real criminals in the case. I didn't know that the boxes were carrying deadly weapons and ammunition," Hafiz claimed.
The erstwhile director (counter intelligence bureau) of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) Maj Gen (retd) Rezakul Haider Chowdhury said DGFI had known nothing about the 10-truck load arms haul in Chittagong before its seizure.
"After seizing the weapons, the government formed a probe committee headed by the then home secretary Omar Faruk. I was one of the members on the committee. We could not bring out the key findings due to a time constraint," he said.