Kleptocracy: Astonishingly a peon turns into billionaire in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh

It seems, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) in Bangladesh has been an epicenter of rampant corruption and kleptocracy for decades, where sinister details about how from peon to top officials of NBR have been amassing unimaginable fortune, while there is no steps in fighting such dangerous trend. While Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is expected to apply all-out efforts in fighting corruption and loot of public wealth the Bangladesh, it in most cases is playing the role of a silent spectator – if not an abettor.

Mahmudul Islam, an office assistant (peon) for the National Board of Revenue (NBR) in Satkhira, has become a millionaire, amassing wealth that has astonished and baffled his community. His rise from a humble background to owning properties worth hundreds of millions of takas has raised serious questions about the legitimacy of his assets and the corruption that may have facilitated his meteoric ascent.

Mahmudul Islam’s story begins in the village of Nawapara in Tala Upazila, Satkhira. Born into a family of day laborers, he is the youngest of five children. His father, Sheikh Tamez Uddin, struggled to make ends meet, and Mahmudul, along with his siblings, contributed to the family’s income through daily wage labor. Despite their hard work, the family lived in poverty, owning little more than their modest home.

In the 1990, Mahmudul secured a job as an office assistant under the NBR. His initial posting was at the NBR head office, but he was later transferred to Khulna, Kushtia, and finally to his home district of Satkhira. For over 20 years, he worked at the Satkhira City Excise Commissioner’s office (Circle-13 Income Tax Office). During his tenure, he formed a close relationship with an Additional Deputy Commissioner, which, according to local sources, enabled him to engage in various illicit activities and accumulate substantial wealth.

Mahmudul’s transformation is reminiscent of a modern-day fairy tale, with rumors likening his fortune to the magical wealth of Aladdin. By the time he voluntarily retired in 2017, after 25 years of service, his wealth had become a subject of widespread speculation and gossip within the community. His resignation was perceived by many as a strategic move to avoid scrutiny and protect his amassed assets.

An investigation into Mahmudul’s assets reveals an extensive portfolio. One of his most significant properties is Bandhan Shopping Complex, a multi-storied building located on Palli Vidyut Road in Patkelghata, a major commercial area in Satkhira. The shopping complex, which sits on land purchased by Mahmudul, was inaugurated in 2021 and includes various business establishments. The estimated investment in the complex, including the cost of land and construction, is around BDT 300 million.

To investigate further, we called the mobile number (01700-814784) provided by Mahmudul’s Bandhan Shopping Complex. The call was answered by Biplab, who identified himself as employer at the cash counter in the complex. When asked about Mahmudul, Biplab admitted that the owner of the market is indeed Mr. Mahmudul but mentioned that he had just joined the complex and did not know the details about the owner. When we requested Mahmudul’s contact number, Biplab abruptly ended the call, citing that he was busy.

In addition to the shopping complex, Mahmudul has built a luxurious four-storey house near Patkelghata Government Primary School. This property includes a swimming pool, disguised as a paved pond, and is estimated to have cost at least BDT 200 million. This opulent house stands in stark contrast to his family’s earlier, more modest home.

Mahmudul has also acquired several acres of land in Patkelghata in the name of his wife, Nasima Begum. He established a business named ‘Urmi Enterprise’ for his daughter, Urmi. This enterprise includes several freight trucks and a brick kiln, with allegations of smuggling surrounding the business. Additionally, Mahmudul has bought land in Baliadoha village under his daughter’s name, further expanding his asset portfolio.

The family’s rapid accumulation of assets has drawn significant attention. Once owning only their ancestral home, Mahmudul now possesses around seven acres of fish enclosures, a storehouse for storing goods, and approximately three acres of agricultural land. Among his acquisitions is 1.33 acres of land purchased from local resident Siddique Mallick. The value of these assets is substantial, raising further suspicions about the sources of his wealth.

Despite the glaring discrepancies between his official income and his amassed wealth, Mahmudul insists that his assets are legitimate. He claims that his wealth is accounted for in his income tax filings and asserts that his total assets amount to around BDT 4 million. When questioned about how he managed to secure loans worth BDT 50 million against assets valued at only BDT 4 million, Mahmudul cited various bank loans and debts to financial institutions. However, these explanations have left many unconvinced, according to media reports.

The luxurious lifestyle of Mahmudul and his family has not gone unnoticed by their neighbors. Reports indicate that the family frequently changes car models and maintains a high standard of living. Mahmudul has further solidified his social standing by marrying his daughter Urmi to the son of a local political leader, thereby increasing his influence and ensuring protection from potential legal actions.

Local residents have expressed their concerns and submitted complaints to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) regarding Mahmudul’s suspiciously acquired wealth. However, despite three formal complaints and substantial evidence presented against him, the ACC has not taken any action. This inaction has led to frustration and fear among the locals, some of whom claim they have faced harassment for speaking out against Mahmudul.

One anonymous resident shared, “I have been harassed in various ways for writing about his corruption. I have submitted complaints to the ACC several times along with all the documents highlighting his corruption. But for mysterious reasons, the ACC did not take any action. Although he is known to the local people as a known corrupt person, those who are supposed to take action are silent”.

The case of Mahmudul Islam highlights a broader issue of corruption and unchecked power within certain government sectors in Bangladesh. As Mahmudul continues to live a life of luxury and influence, the local community remains skeptical and concerned about the pervasive nature of corruption and the lack of accountability for those in power. The ACC’s failure to act on the complaints against Mahmudul raises serious questions about the effectiveness and integrity of anti-corruption measures in the country.

As the whispers and suspicions grow louder, Mahmudul’s story serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by those who seek to uphold transparency and justice in a system marred by corruption and impunity. His rise from peon to millionaire is not just a personal tale of wealth but a reflection of deeper systemic issues that demand urgent attention and reform.

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