Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Vendetta" by PM's Security Adviser turns business partner into a "terrorist"

Colonel (rtd) Shahid Khan with the President of Bangladesh at the Hilton
Hotel in London, April 26, 2017
Colonel Shahid Khan is a retired Bangladesh army colonel, turned businessman, who since 2009 has lived in the UK with his wife and daughters. 

Until recently, Khan ran a Bangladesh company, Prochhaya Limited, jointly owned by both his own family and that of another retired Bangladesh army officer, Major General Tarique Ahmed Siddique. 

Siddique is no ordinary retired officer. He is the Security Adviser to the Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina, and is now one of the government's most powerful and feared men with effective control of the country's military and intelligence agencies. Siddique is also related to the prime minister as his brother is married to Hasina's sister - a relationship that itself brings power and status.

Prochhaya Ltd made its money by purchasing contested or occupied land at a knock-down price and then selling it at a market valuation once the company had managed to obtain full legal ownership through the courts. Prochhaya was far from the only company in Bangladesh undertaking this kind of venture, but it is nonetheless a murky business, facilitated by high level political connections which Siddique provided. 

Khan, who ran the company primarily from UK, was not politically ambitious and does not appear to have used his business connections with Siddique for political advantage in Bangladesh. However, he was certainly a trusted "insider" -  with sufficient clout to set up two years ago a private meeting with the country's President, Abdul Hamid, at the Hilton Hotel in London to discuss a PhD thesis he was writing.

But today, Khan's is no longer the insider. Since April 2018, the evidence suggests he has been subject to an extreme vendetta by Siddique, his once close business associate, involving enforced disappearances and the abuse of state agencies over which he has effective control.

In the last fourteen months, three of Khan's brothers, four of his office staff members and his lawyer, have been picked up and secretly detained for various lengths of time - with the current whereabouts of four of these men remaining unknown. The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, known as DGFI, and the para military agency Rapid Action Batallion have been implicated in these detentions.

Khan's office and home in Bangladesh have been raided and all his personal and business papers removed, along with those of the company. His mother in law has been stopped at the airport from leaving Bangladesh and all his finances have been blocked. 

The wife of the London based businessman has also been accused of "conducting anti-state and anti-government activities", and criminal cases have been filed against not only her, but Khan and three of his staff officers (who remain disappeared) accused of "establishing connections with prohibited terrorist organisations."

If Khan and his wife want to escape a Bangladesh jail or a secret detention cell they would be wise not to return to their homeland. In Bangladesh there is no longer an independent media to investigate or even report what has happened to him and there is no judiciary capable of holding those responsible to account. Government leaders are well aware that they can abuse the powers held by state bodies for their own personal interest, committing serious crimes and human rights violations, with total impunity.

Khan has learnt the hard way that whilst Siddique was a useful man to partner in business, his control of security agencies made him a very dangerous man to fall out with. 

Below is the story of how Khan and Siddique met, how they fell out and the evidence of Siddique's subsequent abuse of state agencies in apparent support of his personal interests. Responding to the allegations, Siddique told BangladeshPolitico that  Khan is "a fraud, cheat and ungrateful character ..... with fabricated stories and lies." 

When Khan met Tarique
Whilst Khan is now threatened by a retired military leader belonging to the Awami League government, his current precarious position stems from his time as an army officer when the current opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was in power.

Khan receiving awards in 2004
Khan entered the army in 1983 and rose quickly through the ranks becoming Lieutenant Colonel. Twenty years later he was a commanding officer of 6 Rifle Battalion based in Chapainawabganj, and in 2004 won a number of trophies including the army's Champion Battalion and Best Patrol Commander for his work in a series of successful anti-smuggling operations.

Excerpt from court martial charge sheet against Shahid Khan, setting out
main charge against him.
Despite these successes - or possibly because of them - Khan's time in the army came to an abrupt end. At the end of 2004, he was accused of sending an anonymous letter to the prime minster which claimed that certain army officers were corrupt and were being protected by the then Post and Telecommunications minister. Khan denied having anything to do with the letter but in June 2005, he was court-martialled, found guilty and thrown out of the army.

Shahid Khan (right) at the house of Tarique Siddique and his wife, Shahana
Siddique in 2009
Khan's sacking resulted in the beginning of his relationship with Tarique Siddique, who was at that time Chief of Personal Security to Sheikh Hasina, the then leader of the opposition. According to Khan, a week after the court-martial, Siddique phoned him suggesting that he could help him get some work. Three months later the two men met up at the home of the opposition security chief, following which Khan went to work part-time as a factory security officer and agreed to work the rest of the week as Siddique's aide. This was the beginning of the long and intense relationship between Khan and Siddique.  

The idea of a joint company between the two families started a few years later when Khan managed to sell his in-law's cold storage business in Comilla. This made the Khan's rich and was the seed money for the establishment of Prochhaya Limited.

Prochhaya company registration document, as of 2012
The company was jointly owned by the two families - and although all the initial financial investment came from the Khan's, a Siddique family member always held the position of company chairperson. The first chairperson was Zamal Shafi, Siddique's brother-in-law and after he left the company in 2012 the position was held by Siddique's wife, Shahana, already a company director. When the company was first set up the board also comprised Khan's wife (Farjana Anjum) and a daughter from each of the families. Khan himself was the company's managing director - but did not sit on the board. 

At the end of 2008, the Awami League won the elections and returned to power. Khan says that he had realised that he did not want to get drawn into the murkiness of Awami League politics and moved to London with his wife and son, on the basis of an investors visa obtained by his wife.

Advert placed in The Daily Star newspaper
in Bangladesh on March 28, 2010 following
government order annulling court martial and
reinstating Khan to the army
Back in Dhaka, the new Awami League government - with Siddique appointed as the new prime minister's defence and security adviser - annulled the result of Khan's 2005 court martial. On March 23, 2010, a circular announced that Khan has been reinstated to the army, promoting him to Colonel with effect from July 2009. The order also announced his subsequent retirement from the army. (see picture)

Back in London, Khan continued as managing director of Prochhaya Ltd. Following the sale of Khan's wife's cold storage, the new company made its money through two further key sales. In 2008, the company purchased land in Mirpur, which they sold in 2011. It then purchased land in Hatirjheel in the same year which was eventually sold in 2016 making the company nearly £5 million. According to Khan, this final sale was organised by Tarique Siddique himself. 

During their time in business, Khan says he was very close to Siddique - calling each other regularly, sometimes daily,  talking about many things including company business. Tarique called Khan, his "younger brother"

The beginning of the end
Very soon after the Hatirjeel land was sold, Shahana Siddique told Khan that she wanted the company dissolved as soon as possible. Khan could not understand why the Siddiques would want to close the company down since it was in good health and other land which the company had purchased would, once the courts had confirmed the company's right of ownership, be able to be sold at a significant profit. However, Shahana was insistent that the company had to be closed, and Khan agreed to do it.

Closing a company in Bangladesh is a drawn out procedure requiring an application to be made to the High Court and whilst the process continued the Siddiques thought that Khan was delaying. 

Khan with Tarique Siddique in June 2017, at his
house in London
The last time Khan saw Tarique Siddique was in June 2017 when  he visited Khan in his house in London (see picture). According to Khan, Siddique told him that he needed to speed up the closing of the company. 

Whilst the relationship between the families had become a little strained, it was six months later in December 2017 that Khan realised that the Siddiques' relationship towards him had really changed. Along with his family, he had travelled at the end of the year to Bangladesh, and planned to hold a reception for his daughter who was coming back to the country after a long period in the UK. Soon after the family arrived, a number of Khan's former army colleagues told him that the Siddiques would not attend the reception and had gone so far as to direct them not to attend with their own families. Khan saw this as a major snub and did not meet up with Tarique Siddique on this visit as he normally would.

Khan returned to London and continued to work on dissolving their joint company. In January the court order came through - but there were further delays as they had to wait for the certified copy of the court orderand then for the Office of the Register of Joint Stock Companies to remove the company from its website. This finally happened on April 4, 2018 and Khan texted Siddique with a message "congratulations". He heard nothing back from his former business partner.

The vendetta and secret detentions start
The very next day, April 5, Khan received a call from Johurul Hoque Khandoker, the general manager of his office in Bangladesh telling him that one of the men who worked for Shahana Siddique had phoned to say that she was going to visit the office in the evening and he should remain present. Khan said that there had been good news about the company closure and he should organise tea and snacks. 

However, at 7 pm, instead of Shahana Siddique, a group of men, who said that they were from DGFI, the military intelligence agency, turned up at the office. They took the mobile phones from Khandoker and the three other staff members present - Enamul Haque, Akidul Ali and Khorshed Alam Patwari (see pictures below)- and ordered them to remain sitting and stay silent. The DGFI officers broke into the office cabinets, removed all the papers and took the computer hard-disks.

Lance Corporal Akidul Ali (rtd)
Warrant OfficerKhorshed Alam
Patwari (rtd)
Hon. Capt Zohurul Hoque
Khondaker (rtd)

Enamul Haque

All the office documents - including those relating to Prochhaya, the Khan family's new company Aether Ltd, and also his own personal papers - were put in a microbus, along with four members of staff, and taken to the house of Tarique Siddique which was situated within the military cantonment. The papers were removed
into Siddique's house and the men, according to affidavits which they subsequently wrote, were all taken to the head office of DGFI, and over the course of the two days blindfolded, interrogated about Khan and his financial affairs and forced to sign statements. The detailed affidavits of two of the men seen by BangladeshPolitico said that they were threatened with death if they did not cooperate. 

The men were released after being secretly and illegally detained for two days.

Picture of the address of letter, stamped 25/7/2018 ,sent by
Aether Ltd, the new family Khan company, which shows
the Cantonment area address. Some details have been
blurred for privacy
In relation to this incident, Tarique Siddique said that "Shahid had no office at Dhaka Cantonment area." However,  it is clear from office letter heads, as well as from the affidavits of the four men that Khan did have an office in the Cantonment area. (see picture)

DGFI picks up lawyer 
Khan heard about the office raid and the detention of this staff, the morning after it happened. He was shocked and immediately tried to contact both Tarique Siddique and his wife but neither responded.  

Six weeks later, on around the 20 May, his tax lawyer, Muhammad Shahbuddin, received a call asking him to go to DGFI office, but, according to Khan, Shahbuddin told DGFI he was busy with work and could not do so for a few days. It seems that DGFI did not take kindly to this delay, and on May 23, his car was stopped and he was removed by two men. His son, who was driving the car at the time, went to the police and filed a "General Diary" stating that:
Copy of GD, submitted at the police station
"At around 2:21 pm, when we were in front of Oriental Zara Housing Society, a black color Toyota SUV Dhaka Metro Gha-02-3556 blocked our car on the road. Two persons came out from that car and forcefully took our father away from us and forced him inside the SUV. We followed the car up until airport crossing but then we lost the track of the car."
The lawyer was released early the next morning at about 1 am and subsequently confirmed to Khan that he had been picked up by DGFI and interrogated about his financial dealings. That was practically the last time Khan heard from Shahbuddin as DGFI had warned him not to continue to work for the UK based businessman.

DGFI stops investment company from disbursing money
Through its office raid, DGFI had access to all of Khan's financial papers including his personal documentation about £2.4 million (Tk 26 crore) invested by the Khans with FAS Finance & Investment Ltd. 

On April 24 - a few weeks after the raid - Khan phoned the investment company and told them that he would like the money to be disbursed to their individual accounts on May 6, which was the next permitted date. However, he was told by FAS that DGFI officials had told it not to disburse the money to him. 

In response, on 1 May, Khan sent a letter (referencing that conversation) to the FAS managing director stating that "due to some unavoidable circumstances" he would like to renew the investment for a further six months. At the same time, he also sent a legal notice to the investment company asking them to explain the reason for not disbursing the money to him.  FAS did not respond to the legal notice, but sent a letter in September 2018 to Khan stating that "as per your request" the company was reinvesting his money for another six months, until 6 November.  

Excerpt from letter sent by Shahid Khan to Siddiqur Rahman and
Sri Gaurango Dey, respectively Chairman and Senior Executive of
FAS Finance and Investment Limited, dated 23 November, 2018 
In November, after the company failed to disburse the money a second time, Khan's lawyer met up with FAS on November 22 and was told that "Directorate General of Force Intelligence has not yet given .. the clearance to disburse our money." The money remains unavailable to the Khans.

Tarique Siddique claimed that "Shahid’s FAS account was frozen by Bangladesh Banks [Financial Intelligence] unit for money laundering charges". However, that is not the reason given by FAS Finance and Investment to Khan on the telephone, in their September letter or in the company's subsequent conversation with Khan's lawyer.

Khan issues legal notice. DGFI summons lawyer
Khan had sought to settle the dispute with Siddique but this had not been successful. In November 2018, Khan instructed a UK law firm, Ronald Fletcher Baker LLP  to send a legal notice to Shaheen Siddique - with copies to Tarique Siddique and the Director General of DGFI, Major Abedin - informing them of his "intention to bring procedding arising out of the unlawful search of seizure of his property" in April. 

Covering letter (with personal information blurred)
The letter, dated November 23, set out details of DGFI's raid of his office the detentions of his four members of staff and lawyer, and the military agency's threats made against FAS to withhold the disbursement of Khan's funds. The letter sought a "declaration that the men under the employ of the defendent and persons of the DGFI under the instructions of the defendent will cease and desist all actions against the claimant, his family, his businesses or any persons linked to these," as well as commitments to return their documents and stop threats against FAS investments.

There was no response to this letter but a week later on December 6, DGFI summoned Khan's tax lawyer to its offices where he was questioned before being released later that day. Khan responded by getting his UK lawyers to send a second legal notice on December 14.

The second notice crossed with DGFI's response (to the original notice) dated 13 December and signed by Lt Col. Dewan Mohammad Monzur Hossain on behalf of the agency's Director General. The letter states that:
 "The allegations made against DGFI .... appears to be false and concocted. Such allegations defame  notably this organisation but also the Armes forces of the country which is well reputed for its professionalism at home and abroad. This office strongly disapprove such false accusations."
DGFI again picks up three staff members
About a week later, ten days before the December 31, 2018 national elections, Khan says that he received a call from Brigadier Ziaul Ahsan who was at that time running the National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre, the country's surveillance hub. Hasan told Khan that he should not proceed further with his legal action now with the election proceeding and that everything can be resolved amicably after the elections.

The national elections took place on December 31, 2018 with the Awami League winning in polls, widely regarded as  systematically rigged. However, far from leading to a resolution, it triggered a far more aggressive attitude by state bodies. 

In the early evening of January 13, two vehicles turned up outside the house of Akidul Ali, a staff member belonging to Khan's Bangladesh office (one of the four who had previously been picked up and taken to the DGFI office in April). There were about 20 men in total, many armed and some wearing the black uniform commonly worn by the paramilitary organisation, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).  Some of the men went into the house and according to an eye-witnesses they brought out Akidul and another of his office colleagues Khorshed Alam Patwari who was with him at that time.  

As this was happening, a witness saw Johurul Hoque Khandoker, another Khan staff member, sitting in one of the RAB cars parked outside Akidul's house. At midday, Khondoker's family said that at midday he had gone to visit some relatives and had never returned home. This was reported in some detail in March by Al Jazeera (see below)

Five months later, the whereabouts of all three men - pictures below - remain unknown. 

Disappeared: Warrant Officer
Khorshed AlamPatwari (rtd)
Disappeared: Hon. Capt Zohurul
Hoque Khondaker (rtd)
Disappeared: Lance Corporal
Akidul Ali (rtd)

In response to these claims, Tarique Siddique told BangladeshPolitico that, "Shahid has instructed the office workers mentioned ... to hide themselves to put blame of abduction on DGFI and me." 

This claim that families hide themselves and are not picked up and disappeared, despite often significant eye-witness evidence of law enforcement authorities taking the men, is a common argument made by Bangladesh government authorities. 

Raid of Khan's House, claim of terrorism
Three days later, on January 17, law enforcement officers raided Khan's house on the alleged basis of a tip-off that Khan's wife - yes his wife! - was "conducting anti-state and anti-government activities". The First Information Report stated:

"On January 14, 2019, getting on a tip off, we came to know that Farzana Anjum Khan and a group from their house [address given] DOHS Baridhara have been conducting anti-state and anti-government activities. Under the leadership of [named police officer] we wanted to search the house to find out various evidences and paper documentation related with international conspiracy and destructive campaigns against the state and the government."

Extract from First Information Report
against Khan, his wife and the
three disappeared staff members 
In a number of First Information Reports, filed by  a police officer from the Counter Terrorism Unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, the following were supposedly found in the house: "50 silver colored detonators;""seven jihadi books" including one titled "How to make bombs;" fake currency; a "revolver with five rounds of bullet;"a pistol with six rounds of bullet, and a shotgun. The FIR went onto state that Khan, his wife, as well as the three members of Khan's staff who have been picked up and secretly detained, 
"had established connections with the prohibited terrorist organisations and worked against the sovereignty and security of the country." 
The FIR accuses him and the other four of "terrorism" under section 6 of the Anti-terrorism Act 2009 and "counterfeit" under section 25A of the Special Powers Act 1974.

Al Jazeera website blocked
On March 20, 2018, Al Jazeera's Investigation Unit published an article referring to many of the points set out above, titled: Exclusive: Bangladesh top security adviser accused of abductions

The next day the government blocked the Al Jazeera website - and to this day it continues to be inaccessible in Bangladesh.

Khan's Family Prevented from leaving Bangladesh
On April 12 Khan's mother-in-law, Saleha Khatun, who has no criminal cases filed against her, was prevented by security officials at Dhaka airport from leaving Bangladesh to go to London for medical treatment. In a writ petition challenging the decision Khatun claimed that "she had come to know from a credible source that the law enforcement agencies have decided to prevent the petitioner from leaving the country merely because of the fact that her son-in-law Colonel Md Shahid Uddin Khan has some emnity with one powerful political leader over business." 

Second Page of High Court Order
The court ruled on 14 May that the government should come and explain its reasons, but did not - unusually - pass an order allowing her to travel immediately, which is the normal court response in such cases. The government has till now not explained its reasons. The court is also not providing time for the case to be heard.

Two of Khan's brothers picked up, secretly detained
On the night of April 22, ten days after his mother in law was prevented from leaving the country, Khan's eldest brother Giasuddin Khan was picked up from his workplace in Dhaka by officers from Rapid Action Battalion. RAB officers, some wearing black uniform, came to the rest house situated above this office at about midnight where he stayed and put him in a vehicle with RAB-1 written on its side, a witness said. He was blindfolded and handcuffed and taken to the house of one of their younger brothers, Mohammed Ali Khan. It remains unclear whether Mohammed was picked up on that day or another day but his whereabouts remains unknown.

Giasuddin Khan was then taken from outside his brothers house to a building where he was held in a cell. For a period of 11 days he was interrogated about his UK based brother. At one point, according to family members, Giasuddin Khan was taken out of his cell, driven around and told "Do you know any prayers? You are alive for only a short while now”. He however was not killed but questioned again and was finally released on 3 May.

Another brother picked up, secretly detained
On June 3, in the late afternoon, law enforcement officials picked up another of Khan's brother, Kabir Uddin Khan, who was secretly detained for two days. 

According to a witness, he was in a rickshaw, about 50 yards from his home on his way back from the office, when it was stopped, put in a microbus, and blindfolded. His wife, who has good Awami League connections, filed a complaint with the police stating that he was missing and her husband was released, two days later on the early morning of 6 June. 

The Motive
In Bangladesh, it is often crystal clear why a person has been falsely accused, jailed, disappeared, extra judicially killed, or otherwise harassed - and that is due their pro-opposition political views or activism, or their willingness to criticise the government. 

However, the abuse of state bodies does sometimes arise out of business and other conflicts, in which political or business figures use their power (though money or through their political authority) to corrupt state bodies for their own personal interests. This is what seems to be behind the Siddiques' vendetta against Khan. 

Tarique Siddique's Response
BangladeshPolitico asked Tarique Siddique to respond to the allegations set out above. Relevant parts of Siddique's response have been included above, but additional aspects of the response are set out below.

Siddique claims that Khan exploited "his connections with important personalities" including high ranking army officials and that he "also exploited my close association with him and did many misdeeds misusing my referent power."

He confirmed that he helped get Khan a job in 2005. 
"He was job less and came to me for help. He could convince me that his dismissal was mainly for political reason, stating that since he was Awami League minded hence he was dismissed. I provided him with a decent job through my connections and also helped him in many ways."
He also said that he helped get Khan an elevation of rank. 
"After 2009, once I was made an advisor to Prime Minister, he applied for getting his Army service back which was not possible. However, I recommended for his normal retirement and elevation of rank, which he got. By this, he gained lots of benefits like getting his honour & rank (because as a dismissed officer you can not write or mention yourself by your rank), got one elevation of rank (from Lieutenant Colonel to full Colonel), got huge amount of monetary benefit along with his pension & other privileges which dismissed officers are not entitled."
He also claimed that until recently, Khan was grateful to him for his help. 
"He used to say even few years back to his friends and near ones, 'I can not repay General Tarique even if I make shoes out of my own body’s hide!'."
In relation to Prochhaya, Khan stated:
"He was never a business partner of mine. If at all I was hankered upon making money, I could easily join any wealthy Business Company in Bangladesh." 
"He was never [Managing Director] or Director of Prochhaya Limited, he acted as a paid CEO of the Company drawing Tk. 5 lacs as monthly salary." 
"Initially my wife’s brother (a genuine businessman) was the Chairperson, but after one year he refused to remain in the Company and my wife became the Chairperson." 
"Neither my wife nor me used to be connected closely with the Company’s activities. I used to trust him blindly." 
"Once I came to know about various misdeeds about Shahid using my name and influencing his high-up connections I warned him but he always denied. He used to say that people are envious of his closeness with me and success that was why they were spreading all these."
As to the closure of the company, he says:
"[I]n 2014, on receiving some solid information about his many heinous activities (including copying my wife’s signatures), I requested him to close the Company immediately. He kept on lingering the process and finally said he has closed the Company in 2016."
"But, once my wife did some enquiries found that lots of anomalies are there to put my wife into problem."
In relation to allegations against DGFI he claims:
"[H]is allegations against DGFI, they are mostly concocted." 
Siddique also makes a series of further claims - though he has, till now, not provided any evidence supporting them:
- Khan has been convicted in a criminal case lodged 9 years earlier. 
- Shahid’s wife and two daughters have been convicted on forgery charges with Agrani Bank with 1 year’s imprisonment. 
- Anti Corruption Bureau is also looking for him on money laundering and for links with Destiny Group. 
- Bangladesh Bank has already detected more than 50 bank accounts in several banks in his and his wife’s name and there is an investigation for Tax Evasion and Money Laundering at NBR Intelligence unit.
Khan says that he has not been formally informed of any of these criminal cases, or investigations, and that if they have happened,  they are linked to Khan's vendetta against him and have all happened since they fell out. Khan also says that any claim that he has 50 Bank accounts of indeed any undeclared bank account is "completely untrue."

Siddique also claims that Khan is "creating all these stage managed issues and dramas to get Political Asylum in UK." Khan says that he has no need to claim asylum in the UK.

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