Thursday, March 4, 2021

My response to bdnews24's "Open Letter" on Al Jazeera's film, "All the Prime Minister's Men"


Bdnews24 published an oped which was titled “An open letter to David Bergman.” It contains a series of factual inaccuracies as well as misrepresentations. One would have thought that bdnews would agree to publish a response. But no. Bdnews editor-in-chief, Toufique Khalidi and its English language editor, Arun Devnath have failed to respond to repeated attempts to contact them. 

Here is the article I would have liked the online news site to have published.




Rayhan Rashid, has a bit of a history. In 2012, then a key person within the International Crimes Strategy Forum, a campaigning organisation involving war crimes, he was caught red-handed in the leaked skype reports scandal which found that he and other outsiders were communicating and providing assistance to the chair of the ICT judge. 

He, unfortunately, brings the same lack of judgment to his analysis of the Al Jazeera film, "All the Prime Minister's Men"


Rashid published an earlier version of the bdnews24 article on his Facebook page – and it is notable that he changed the initial introduction. Rashid had originally written in his Facebook post:

“AJ’s investigation succeeded in establishing the following points to its credit:

- That the current Army Chief of Bangladesh had occasionally been in contact with his two fugitive brothers.

- That one of his two fugitive brothers is now using a false identity.

- That the Army Chief failed to report his fugitive brothers to the authorities when they visited Bangladesh from time-to-time.

These actions, and in some cases omissions, undoubtedly indicate breaking a number of laws, not just by the Army Chief himself, but also by certain other bodies and persons entrusted to uphold these laws. The person(s) responsible for such law-breaking must be held to account."


In the bdnews24 article however he no longer states that “AJ’s investigation succeeded in establishing the following points.” Why not? He claims that this is because of a subsequent army public relations statement “that the brothers of the Army Chief were no longer fugitives at the times mentioned in the documentary.”


Those who have sparred with Rashid in the past will not be surprised at this extraordinary inaccuracy. All these three particular claims which Rashid himself sets out  – and which Rashid had originally accepted “undoubtedly indicate breaking a number of laws, not just by the Army Chief himself” - took place well before March 2019, the date at which the two brothers received their secret remission.


So Rashid’s basic position on the film right from the start of this article is based on a total misunderstanding of basic facts.


Moreover, Rashid’s three points seriously undersell other aspects of Aziz Ahmed’s conspiracy which were proven by the film. In addition to the  points he mentions, there are the following:

  • It showed that, as head of BGB, General Aziz Ahmed in 2014 and 2015 had personally organised to send Haris to Hungary on false papers including a passport, NID certificate, and bank account in a fake name;

  • It shows that in so doing, Aziz Ahmed obtained the assistance of at least three BGB officers – two of whom he got to authenticate false documents, making them complicit in the conspiracy. One of them was his ADC;

  • It shows Aziz visiting his brother in Hungary in 2015 whilst he continued to be a fugitive, convicted of murder;

  • It shows that Haris Ahmed, the fugitive brother of Aziz, set up a string of companies in Hungary and France under this false name during a period when he was a fugitive from the crime of murder;

  • It shows a proposal signed by Haris Ahmed to his own brother, Aziz Ahmed to provide bunk beds for the BGB, when Aziz was then its DG.
This is a criminal conspiracy, involving the commission of numerous criminal laws, conducted by the then head of BGB, and now chief of army staff.

Just to provide some clear factual backbone to this – and to assist Rashid, who appears to have a problem about dates and evidence - I will go through the exact chronology set out in the film.


In 2014, Sami (the Whistle-blower) received a call from an acquaintance informing him that Aziz was coming to Hungary and wanted Sami to accompany him as there was no embassy in Budapest. The film shows photos of Sami and Aziz in Hungary. Aziz asked Sami to set up a business for his brother who was then living in India. Aziz, on his return to Dhaka, sends an email to Sami asking what documents were required. Aziz then sent Sami a passport, dated Feb 2014 with the name of Mohammed Hasan (picture shown in the film). This turned out to be a passport with a fake name. Sami was also sent a series of other fake documents including a fake National Identity Card, a fake birth certificate (with a date registration of 12 Feb 2014); a fake university of Chittagong certificate; and a fake marriage certificate (all shown in the film). A number of documents were “attested” by subordinates of Aziz Ahmed – Major Md Sujaul Huq and Brigadieer General Abul Hasnat Md K Basher on December 29th 2014 (also shown in the film)


All these documents were sent by DHL from “headquarters, BGB” on 11 January 2015 (shown in the film). The name of the shipper was Major Samiur Rashid – who was at that time “ADC to the DG” of BGB [Aide-de-camp]. The DG of the BGB at the time was Aziz Ahmed. Another document that was sent from General Aziz Ahmed’s office was a bank account in the fake name of Md Hasan. This was emailed on 2 June 2015, by Major Sami Rashid, copied to Aziz Ahmed (shown in the film). Mohammed Hasan arrives in Budapest in early summer 2015 where he sets up the Bay of Bengal company – with his wife, daughter and son in law as directors (shown in the film). Video is shown of Aziz visiting the business in 2017.


All of the above took place at a time when when Haris was a convicted murderer, a fugitive from the courts, years before the government gave him his secret remission in March 2019 (as has been subsequently revealed). He remains a convicted murderer, as of today.


Significantly, though Aziz and the government have made vague, broad denials about the film, they have not denied any of the above specific allegations. This is not something mentioned by Rashid.


Al Jazeera sent to each of the protagonists in the film – including Aziz and his brothers – detailed letters of the allegations made against each of them. They were given weeks to respond, but they failed to do so. Subsequent to broadcast, all these men have now had further weeks to deny the detail and they have also failed to do so. What does this tell you?


Rashid claims that “there were at least two instances where the documents shown by AJ appeared to have been altered and manipulated.” For his claim, Rashid relies on unnamed “bloggers”. Al Jazeera has the actual documents, which I have seen, and they are 100% genuine. If any of the documents were not genuine, why has not a single protagonist in the film claimed that they are fake? Why did they never respond to Al Jazeera before or after the film was broadcast? Why have they not gone directly to court? Because they can’t. This is because all the documents shown in the film are genuine.


Rashid also claims that the “whistleblower” has “quite a shady past (e.g., alleged fraud, impersonation, drug abuse to name a few)”. Rashid is taking this from an ISPR press release, that provides no evidence. It is interesting how how Rashid is willing to believe this single page document - rather than an hour long film which provides detailed evidence of a fraud. If the whistleblower is all of these things - why did the Bangladesh government allow him to organise much of the logistics of Sheikh Hasina's visit to the Budapest in November 2016 - after he received a security vetting from Bangladesh agencies? 


In addition, to the above conspiracy, the film also shows


Haris Ahmed in conversation with a DGFI officer pressuring him to give him contracts:


“You know what I was saying about anything going done in Europe or Hungary? Throw something my way. I’ll give you some of the profits. I’ll see to the rest.”


Haris talking about his control over Rapid Action Battalion and how it does his dirty work for them.

“Benazir is there… RAB is there, others are there. We are making them do all our work.  My gangsters are RAB. I don’t need thugs, these (RAB) are my thugs. Pick someone up, detain someone. They make money, I make money.  A straightforward deal.”


Haris talking about a system of bribes taken from police officers seeking changes in posts, in which the Home Minister and the IGP is involved.

“Actually, the transfer bribe is taken by the home minister, the Inspector General and the police commissioner … These three people. If there is a contract for $625,000, we give them $375,000 and the remaining $250,000 will be ours.”


Haris trying to persuade the whistle-blower to act on his behalf in a deal to provide Hungarian bullets to the Bangladesh army

“I can’t do this openly, through the proper channels. I am his brother after all. Because I am his brother, I will not show myself to the army. You will show yourself. Do not identify me. Just watch. We’ll both be making money. It will come automatically. The money will just flow in.”


Aziz talking about how highly Sheikh Hasina thinks about his brothers.


“When the Awami League was going through its toughest patch at the time of Jatiya party rule, where they were not able to sit in the party head office, my brothers, […] were the main strength of this party. The central party leaders used to come to my younger brother’s office and from there they used to announce the party programme. This was because they did not feel safe anywhere else.”


Aziz talking about how the prime minister had a plan to “clear up” the things that his brothers have done, referring to their murder convictions.


“The Honorable met me and said ‘Mr. Aziz, about you, I’ve given this a lot of thought and there is no alternative to this.’ According to her [prime minister] plan, all these different things that the brothers have done to others, need to be cleared before my appointment (as chief of army staff). This she has discussed with me.”


Rashid seeks to minimise these by stating that Haris was “goaded to brag”? On what basis does he claim that? This is a very convenient argument for those who seek to legitimise the political and financial corruption that is so rampant in the country.

In any functioning democracy, this film would have dramatic political impact. There would be immediate resignations, and the establishment of public enquiries. All these matters would be investigated. The subject would dominate the parliament and the media for months.

The only reason there are not now wider political repercussions is that Bangladesh is very far from being a democracy with very limited rule of law particularly when it comes to crimes and abuse of power of those in positions of power. It is sad to say that Rashid's commentary plays its role in exonerating the politically corrupt in Bangladesh by hugely minimising the content and high standards of journalism in the film.

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