The emperor of corruption in Bangladesh: Mehraj Ul Alam Samrat’s manipulative tactics to legitimize illicit wealth

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Corruption

Mehraj ul Alam Samrat, former Second Secretary of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), has earned the notorious title of “Emperor of Corruption.” Following the corrupt footsteps of Kazi Abu Mahmud Faisal, another disgraced NBR official, Samrat has allegedly amassed a fortune through fraudulent means. Despite an ongoing investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), he remains a free man, protected by influential networks and strategic maneuvers designed to dodge accountability.

Samrat’s descent into corruption began shortly after he joined the NBR’s Customs cadre on June 3, 2012, after passing the 30th batch of the Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) exams. He served in various important commissionerates, including the Chittagong Customs House, where allegations of bribery and corruption first surfaced. During his tenure, he held the position of Second Secretary of the Customs Department for two years and was later appointed to the agency’s Central Intelligence Cell (CIC). This appointment raised eyebrows both within and outside the NBR, as individuals accused of bribery and corruption are typically not posted in the CIC.

As Samrat’s career progressed, so did his illicit wealth accumulation. His wife, Nasheeda Ali, and mother-in-law, Rokeya Begum, became central figures in his schemes. Income tax files opened for both women reveal significant land acquisitions and other assets that appear disproportionate to their legitimate incomes.

In November 2013, a year after Samrat’s appointment, an income tax file was opened for Rokeya Begum, ostensibly to launder black money. This file showed substantial land holdings in Cox’s Bazar, acquired through dubious means. The ACC investigation revealed that Samrat bought land worth at least BDT 160 million in Magnama Mauza of Pekua Upazila, Cox’s Bazar, with plans to develop a resort. The income tax files of both Rokeya Begum and Nasheeda Ali list this land as inherited, despite discrepancies in the details and the larger portion appearing under Nasheeda’s name. This inconsistency suggests an attempt to legitimize illegal money by transferring property ownership from the mother-in-law to the wife.

Further scrutiny of the income tax files reveals multiple irregularities. The permanent address of Rokeya Begum was mysteriously changed from Pekua, Cox’s Bazar, to house number 94, Abhizat OR Nizam Road, Panchlaish, Chittagong. Additionally, Samrat’s mobile number was used in her tax file. These manipulations point to deliberate efforts to conceal the origins of the illicit assets.

Samrat’s fraudulent activities extend to luxury assets. He purchased a 2,372 square feet apartment in the upscale ‘Navana Lupin’ high-rise building at 297/D, Road No. 15, C Block, Bashundhara residential area, for BDT 30.328 million. However, the deed value recorded in the income tax file is only BDT 8.4 million, hiding nearly BDT 20.5 million in illegal wealth. Furthermore, he bought gold ornaments worth BDT 10 million for his wife and mother-in-law, falsely declaring them as wedding gifts in their income tax files.

Bank records have unveiled additional instances of embezzlement by Samrat. On February 15, 2022, he opened a benami account in Padma Bank under the name of Janaik Hasan, a resident of Bashundhara residential area, and made an FDR (Fixed Deposit Receipt) of BDT 5 million. Hasan’s permanent address is listed as Comilla, but Samrat’s mobile number was used to open the account. Earlier, in December 2021, Samrat made three FDRs totaling BDT 3 million in the same bank.

Similar patterns emerged with significant deposits in Shahjalal Islami Bank and United Commercial Bank, where different mobile numbers linked to Samrat were used to open accounts. The ACC investigation can trace these benami accounts through the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) based on the mobile numbers used.

Samrat’s corruption extends to vehicle registrations. He purchased a Hyundai Tucson luxury car (Dhaka Metro G-21-5152) registered in his mother-in-law’s name, with the owner’s address listed as his Bashundhara apartment. The mobile number used for the TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number) communication was fake, belonging to a young man from Rangpur. Additionally, his wife, Nasheeda Ali, acquired a Premio car (Dhaka Metro G-26-3192) with a loan, and an FDR of BDT 1 million was found in her name at UCB Bank.

When confronted about the allegations, Samrat denied any wrongdoing, attributing the ACC complaints to a group offended by his work at the CIC. He claimed that the properties in Cox’s Bazar were inherited through his in-laws and that the allegations of purchasing a high-value apartment and making benami FDRs were false. He also denied involvement in vehicle registration fraud, asserting that the cars were bought with his mother-in-law’s and wife’s money, as reflected in their income tax files.

In a bid to avoid controversy and scrutiny, Samrat strategically joined the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for a six-month loan on June 23, 2023. This move was perceived as an attempt to shield himself from ongoing investigations and public outrage over his alleged corruption. During this period, influential circles have been lobbying to end the complaints against him, further complicating the ACC’s efforts to bring him to justice.

The ACC has conducted a thorough investigation into Samrat’s illicit activities, reviewing his personal files, income tax records, and documents related to the complaints. Despite finding substantial evidence of fraud and illegal wealth, the case remains unresolved. ACC officials, including assistant director Atiya Tama, have refrained from commenting publicly, citing the ongoing investigation.

Media investigations have corroborated the ACC’s findings, revealing the extent of Samrat’s corrupt practices and manipulative tactics. Documents obtained from the ACC provide a detailed account of his fraudulent schemes and the involvement of his family members in laundering illicit funds.

Mehraj ul Alam Samrat’s case serves as a stark reminder of the pervasive corruption that undermines public trust and hinders development in Bangladesh. Addressing systemic corruption requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society, and international partners. By implementing comprehensive anti-corruption measures and holding corrupt officials accountable, Bangladesh can work towards a more transparent, just, and prosperous future.

Mehraj ul Alam Samrat’s cunning methods to legitimize illegal assets and evade accountability highlight the deep-rooted corruption within the NBR and other institutions. Despite mounting evidence of his fraudulent activities, he remains protected by influential networks and strategic moves designed to shield him from the law. The ACC’s investigation is ongoing, but the “Emperor of Corruption” has yet to face the full force of justice. As the probe continues, it is crucial for authorities to act decisively to uphold justice and curb systemic corruption within the NBR and beyond.

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