When cops turn part-time robbers
On the night of January 23 last year, Abdullah Munshi landed at Dhaka airport from Dubai and took a CNG-run autorickshaw to go to his brother's house in Khilgaon around 11:00.
As the autorickshaw came near the Army Stadium in Banani, a microbus waylaid it coming from behind. Four men stormed out of the microbus and signaled the autorickshaw to stop, identifying themselves as police personnel.
They then dragged Abdullah, 24, out of the autorickshaw, cuffed his hands and forced him into the microbus. Inside the microbus, now running, they blindfolded him and started hitting him indiscriminately. They also threatened to kill him if he screamed.
The four cops eventually released the migrant worker around 1:30am near Purbachal, after looting two gold bars and ornaments weighing 334 grams worth about Tk 22.5 lakh, a cell phone and a laptop, according to the complaint Abdullah filed.
Banani police, which investigated the case, found his allegations to be true. The four constables -- Rabiul Bepari, Md Abdur Razzak, Uzzal Chandra Barman and Md Azad -- were later arrested.
A Dhaka court has since sent them to jail, as further investigation continues. They confessed to the crime before a Dhaka court.
This is not an isolated incident, however. Over the last six months, Banani, Airport and Uttara Paschim police stations investigated six robbery cases involving police members, immigration officials and petty criminals who operate as partners in crime.
This syndicate often targets Bangladeshi expatriates, snatch gold and smuggles the precious metal to India, investigators say.
The police forwarding reports submitted to different Dhaka courts over the last six months reveal the names of seven policemen -- one sub-inspector, two assistant sub-inspectors, and four constables.
Police also arrested Airport Fire Operator Dinesh Chandra Biswas and Traffic Assistant Bappi Sheikh in the case for acting as informers.
"We are investigating the case with priority. Anyone involved will face stern action, whoever they may be," Md Shahjahan, deputy commissioner of Uttara division police, told The Daily Star.
The number of police personnel turning into part-time criminals seems to be rising. Sources in the police say a section of junior and mid-ranking officers are committing various crimes including robbery, drug smuggling, mugging and rape, tainting the image of the 2 lakh-strong police force.
In the first nine months of 2023, at least 318 cases were filed against 304 police personnel, and 79 were arrested across the country, according to the Police Headquarters data. The last three months' data for 2023 are not available.
In 2022, around 1,731 police personnel faced departmental actions, with majority of the offenders getting away with suspension or transfer.
"Recruitment should be transparent if we want to prevent crimes by police personnel. This is the first step. Then there has to be strong monitoring in place to identify police members having criminal tendencies," said Nurul Huda, former inspector general of police.
"Finally, stern departmental and legal actions should be taken if any police member is found involved in crimes," he told The Daily Star.
Dhaka University Associate Professor Tawohidul Haque said departmental actions and investigations into the crimes committed by police members are questionable. The process for departmental action is time-consuming, which often allows the accused cops the liberty to continue to engage in criminal activities.
"Departmental actions should be fast-tracked. Also, there should be transparency in the departmental action process to reduce law enforcers' involvement in crimes," he added.
THE BAND OF ROBBERS
All seven arrestees in Abdullah Munshi's case have robbed migrants on at least two other occasions, investigators say.
These cops used to interact with different criminal groups for professional purposes, but were likely influenced by the criminals and joined forces with them, said Abdul Hannan, a detective who is investigating the case.
Three months after Abdullah filed the case against unnamed robbers, police caught the four constables red-handed during another robbery attempt in front of the airport on April 1. The victim was again a migrant worker. Police filed a case against the four the next day.
The very next day, on April 3, another case was filed against the same four with the Airport police for looting four gold bars weighing around 464 grams from Jakir Hossain and Din Islam, both Dubai expatriates. This robbery took place in front of the airport on February 11, 2023.
Some staff members of the airport play a vital role in this syndicate, tipping off the police members about the passengers who carry legally declared gold, one investigator said.
"Thus informed, the constables along with other criminals used to rob migrants," he said.
'SMUGGLING TO INDIA'
Gourango Datta, who has a jewelry shop in Tongi, on December 23 filed a case with Uttara Paschim Police Station after he was robbed of 200 tolas of gold near Uttara Gausul Azam Market.
Four people identifying themselves as detectives stopped Gourango's vehicle on way to his shop from the Uttara residence, and looted the gold and his phones, according to the case statement.
Subsequent police investigation found ASI Gias Uddin and ASI Md Obaidur and SI Md Abdul Alim robbed Gourango that day, reads the police forwarding report submitted before the court on January 4.
According to the police report, these cops, who are not part of the gang that robs migrants around the airport, have links with gold smugglers in India. They smuggle looted gold to the neighbouring country through Chuadanga border point of Bangladesh.
ASI Gias has since been arrested while Obaidur and Alim are on the run. All three have been suspended.
"We identified some people involved in the crime. We hope we will be able to arrest them soon," said Uttara Paschim Police Station Sub-inspector Safin Ishtiaq Rubel, who is investigating the case.
Asked about gold smuggling by these cops, he said he will be able to share some details after arresting the other gang members.