Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We were on way to minister's residence ; Says railway security official

Two top railway officials, Railway Minister Suranjit Sengupta's assistant personal secretary (APS) and his driver along with Tk 70 lakh were going to the minister's Jigatola residence on Monday night, intelligence sources told The Daily Star yesterday. 

The minister, however, refuted the claim.

Railway's Dhaka division Security Commandant Enamul Huq, one of the four persons who were detained by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) personnel at Pilkhana with the money, claimed yesterday that he had no idea that they were going to the minister's house.

The other top railway official is Yusuf Ali Mridha, railway general manager (East) while the railway minister's APS is Omar Faruq Talukder.

"I came to know about the money when microbus driver Ali Azam drove into the Pilkhana headquarters around 11:30pm, screaming that there was illegal money in the vehicle," he told The Daily Star at his office yesterday.

Sources say the driver might have created the scene as he was refused Tk 5 lakh as a share of the amount.
After the scandal came to light on Tuesday, Suranjit told reporters he was ignorant of the movement of the four detained persons, saying he was not supposed to know their whereabouts after office hours.

The Daily Star tried to talk to the four persons, but could reach only Enamul Huq at his Kamalapur Railway Station office. 

Yusuf Ali Mridha was neither found at his Railway Officers' Staff Quarters residence nor did he receive calls despite repeated attempts. 

The cell phones of the minister's APS and his driver were also found switched off.

Maj Gen Anwar Hossain, BGB director general, on Tuesday told The Daily Star that his force freed all the four detainees.

But Enamul Huq yesterday said the BGB men still had driver Ali Azam in their custody.

"As the driver was not released, another person called by the minister's APS drove us out of the border guard headquarters," he told The Daily Star.

This paper has also made repeated attempts to contact a number of BGB officials to verify Enamul's statement but none of the border official took any call.

According to Enamul, he got involved in the incident as Yusuf Ali Mridha asked him to go to the minister's house that night.

"First, we reached a house at Dhanmondi-3 by the car of the general manager [Yusuf Ali]. I waited in the car as the GM entered the house. About an hour later, the GM and the APS [Omar Faruq] came down and asked me to leave the car and get into the microbus of the APS," said Enamul.

"When we reached near Pilkhana around 11:30pm, the driver drove the vehicle into the Pilkhana BGB headquarters through gate No 4."

"At one stage, the driver asked the BGB men to detain the GM and the APS, as he screamed there was illegal money," Enamul said.

"At this, Omar Faruq told the driver and the BGB men that there was no illegal money and that it was his money. He [Faruk] said his relatives gave him the money for business and for his sister's marriage," Enamul added. 

Following arguments for around 40 minutes, some BGB personnel approached the microbus and took the keys.

"The BGB men kept us in a room in the Pilkhana [on Monday night] and on Tuesday they freed three of us after verifying our identities but kept the driver detained," he said. 

Replying to a query, Enamul said none intercepted them to know their identities when the driver drove the microbus into Pilkhana.

It may be mentioned that the BGB headquarters is heavily guarded and it is quite impossible for outsiders to enter it without the BGB members checking their identities.


'Railway-gate' Scandal Suranjit comes under fire

Govt embarrassed; BNP asks minister to go; ACC to probe; Tk 70 lakh alleged to have come from recent recruitment.


Railway Minister Suranjit Sengupta received heavy flak from various quarters over the seizure of Tk 70 lakh from his assistant personal secretary's car Monday night and his handling of the matter afterwards. 

The parliamentary body on railway ministry and officials of railway and other ministries alleged that Suranjit took the matter very lightly. They questioned how neutral the two probe committees, formed by the minister, would be when an officer of the same ministry would be investigating his subordinates. 

Even the Anti-Corruption Commission joined the bandwagon yesterday. The watchdog said it would launch a probe into the minister's alleged involvement in the incident, reports Channel i, a private TV channel. 

Meanwhile, the opposition BNP demanded the minister's resignation while the parliamentary body launched a probe into the ministry's handling of tenders over the last three years. 

The money found in the car is believed to be bribes from railway job seekers.

On late Monday, Ali Azam, driver of Suranjit's assistant personal secretary Omar Faruq Talukder's car; with him, Railway's General Manager (East) Yusuf Ali Mridha and Chief Commandant Enamul Huq on board drove the car into the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) headquarters in Pilkhana in the capital. When guards at the gate rushed to the vehicle for unauthorised entry, the driver told them there was bribe money stashed in the car. The guards discovered Tk 70 lakh in the car and they detained the four. 

adesh (BGB) headquarters in Pilkhana in the capital. When guards at the gate rushed to the vehicle for unauthorised entry, the driver told them there was bribe money stashed in the car. The guards discovered Tk 70 lakh in the car and they detained the four. 

The BGB personnel wanted to hand them over to police but police refused to receive them saying there was no case filed against them. Faruq, Yusuf and Enamul were eventually released but the driver is said to be still in BGB custody.

The Daily Star failed to reach the driver for comments despite repeated attempts on his two mobile phones. 

BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir during a demonstration in the capital against price hike of essentials called for Suranjit's resignation. He said the minister should shoulder the responsibilities of what has happened, reported UNB. 

Suranjit, clearly on the back foot, held a press conference yesterday and said Faruq and Yusuf had been asked not to come to work until further notice. 

“This was unwarranted,” Suranjit Sen Gupta told the press, adding, “In a country like ours, this kind of incidents has happened before. This incident has created problems for me. I will face it.”

When the press asked if he had suspended them, he was rather vague and said, “You can also think like that if you want.”

However, after the seizure of the money the minister had told a press briefing at Rail Bhaban that the two would continue work since they have not been proved guilty of any wrongdoing. He denied that Enamul was even in the car.

Late last night, Suranjit's personal secretary sent a letter to the secretary of the ministry informing him of Faruq's suspension from yesterday morning. 

Sources in the railway said Rail Sramik League, ministers, lawmakers, ruling party leaders and a section of corrupt railway officials were taking bribes from job seekers. The railway ministry recently started recruitment of 7,500 people.

A senior railway official on condition of anonymity said, “Tk 2 lakh to 5 lakh is being taken from each candidate.” 

During the meeting of the parliamentary body on the railway ministry at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban yesterday, a number of lawmakers came down heavily on the minister over the issue. 

They even questioned how an APS has a lawmaker's sticker on his personal car.

The parliamentary body yesterday formed a five-member sub-committee headed by lawmaker Shah Alam to probe alleged irregularities in awarding tender under the ministry's various projects in the last three years.

BNP MP Rehana Akhter Ranu, a member of the parliamentary body, demanded that the government forms a judicial probe committee for this. She said Suranjit must resign for the sake of impartial investigation. 

Rehana said, “We believe the minister's APS and a general manager of the ministry were carrying the money to give him [Suranjit] as bribe in exchange for recruitments in the ministry.” 

Other members, including a ruling party lawmaker, of the standing committee asked the minister about the alleged corruption in recruiting employees in the railway ministry. 

Suranjit, also a member of the parliamentary body, said such incident was unexpected and he would place the enquiry reports of the two probe committees before the parliamentary body and take actions as per the committee's directives. 

Suranjit refused Rehana's demand for judicial probe.

Talking to The Daily Star, several railway officials and employees said the three--Faruk, Mirdha and Enamul--should have been suspended immediately and an independent investigation body should have been formed.
Joint secretary (administration) of the railway ministry Shashi Bhushan Singha was assigned to investigate the involvement of Mirdha while minister's Personal Secretary Akhtaruzzaman was probing the involvement of Faruk.

“How can the minister's PS be assigned to investigate such an incident since both work closely?” a mid-level official told The Daily Star at Railway Bhaban yesterday. He said an official of the ministry could not probe irregularities of an official of the same ministry.

Another junior official said he suspected that proper investigation would not be possible by the probe committees. “Officials of other ministries could have easily been engaged in the probe,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Another official said, “There are allegations that many of us are chor [thieves]. This is the proof of that.”
The official said if Yusuf was quizzed, everything would be revealed.

Meanwhile, the Railway Bhaban yesterday looked desert since morning as almost no senior officials attended work. 

The government and the ruling Awami League were embarrassed by the incident, The Daily Star found out after talking to several leaders and ministers. 

However, none agreed to make official comments.

“It is really embarrassing for the government and the party as well at this time [late part of the government's tenure],” said a minister requesting not to be named. “It is a very sensitive matter…”

The minister said they would discuss the matter with the prime minister upon her return from Turkey on Saturday. 

Highly placed government sources said that before her departure, the prime minister has asked the railways minister to suspend his APS immediately.

Awami League Deputy Office Secretary Mrinal Kanti Das, however, said there might be a conspiracy behind the incident. It could have been staged to disgrace the government.

Anti-Corruption Commission Chairman Ghulam Rahman yesterday said the commission would investigate the allegation of bribe against Railways Minister Suranjit Sengupta.

“There used to be no investigation into any allegation against ministers in the past, but now the graft watchdog will probe,” he said, addressing the concluding ceremony of a training programme for the newly-appointed 28 ACC Assistant Directors, reports UNB.

The ACC chairman also said the commission would also conduct an investigation into the allegations of corruption in the Padma bridge project and against the company Destiny 2000.