January 18, 2016

Bangladesh: Firms and organisations linked to the Islamist party may be taken over by govt

Dhaka Tribune, January 18, 2016

Govt to take over firms with Jamaat ties
Asif Showkat Kallol

If Jamaat-e-Islami is banned, as looks increasingly likely, firms and organisations linked to the Islamist party – including Islami Bank and Ibn Sina Hospital – will be declared abandoned and the government will move to take over their operations.

The Law Ministry is working on amending the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 to ban Jamaat for its role in the country’s 1971 Liberation War. Jamaat is also blamed for carrying out massive violent activities since 2013 in the name of anti-government movement.

The law also contains provisions describing how to nationalise the firms and organisations affiliated with the party.

“We are trying to revise the law [ICT Act] so that any political party including Jamaat can be punished for committing crimes in 1971. A bill on the amendment will be placed before parliament in the next session,” Law Minister Anisul Huq told the Dhaka Tribune last night.

The amendment proposal was already approved by the cabinet last month.

Recently, several ministers announced that Jamaat would be banned very soon.

“In my opinion, Jamaat-Shibir should not have the right to do politics in the country as they do not believe in the independence of Bangladesh. If the law is passed in parliament, Jamaat will be banned and its affiliated firms declared abandoned,” Finance Minister AMA Muhith said.

“In that case, the government will have no other option but taking over those firms. We have good experience in managing abandoned properties,” he told the Dhaka Tribune in an interview recently.

Asked how they would identify Jamaat-linked firms, Muhith said: “Firstly, we will check the background of the members of board of directors in the institutions. Secondly, we will identify the source of funds of those firms.”

Apart from banks and hospitals, Jamaat has investments in pharmaceuticals, real estate, education, transport and media sectors.

Even though the process of banning Jamaat and identifying these firms began in 2013, the government did not continue the process at that time. The process resumed in November last year after the execution of top Jamaat leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid for war crimes.

In response to directives given by the Home and Finance ministries, Bangladesh Bank recently removed a deputy managing director of Islami Bank for his involvement with Jamaat and funding violent activities carried out by the party supporters. It is now planning to identify the other high officials of the bank with ties with Jamaat following the Finance Ministry’s instructions.

The Home Ministry in November sent a 216-page report containing names of over 560 financial institutions and organisations to the Finance Ministry suggesting necessary action.

Jamaat leaders and its financial institutions also fund local militant groups to carry out subversive activities, according to the government. They also campaign against the incumbent government and the ongoing war crimes trials using mosques, madrasas and religious gatherings.

According to Dhaka University teacher Prof Abul Barakat, the Jamaat-affiliated financial institutions have earned profits worth Tk20 billion in the last 40 years. A part of the profit is spent to run 132 militant groups while another fraction is disbursed among some five lakh party members positioned in different projects, he alleged at a programme recently.

In November, the central bank was instructed also to monitor suspicious transactions through scholarships from Islami Bank’s zakat fund and donations to different educational institutions and NGOs.

The move came after Bangladesh Bank detected 27 suspected terror transactions made by Islami Bank and put it under the scanner for having suspicious link to militants. Earlier, the bank was fined four times under the Anti-Money Laundering Act for militant financing.

A senior official of the central bank recently said that the foreign stakeholders of Islami Bank were selling off their shares because of the involvement of the bank with the war criminals. On the other hand, the ruling party is planning to hold positions in the bank’s board by buying its shares.

Jamaat leader Mir Quasem Ali, who was sentenced to death for war-time crimes, is a former vice-chairman of the bank. He is also the founder of the Islami Bank Foundation. He has spent millions of dollars to pay a US lobbyist firm to campaign against the trials.

In 2013, the government found irregularities in donations and scholarships to organisations by Islami Bank Foundation.

Labelled as a criminal organisation in a verdict of the International Crimes Tribunal for siding with the Pakistani occupation forces in 1971, Jamaat is the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh. Its registration as a political party was declared illegal by the High Court on August 1, 2013 as its party charter had several provisions contrary to the country’s constitution. The hearing on an appeal filed against the order is pending with the Appellate Division.

Jamaat was banned after the independence of Bangladesh when most of its top leaders went into hiding. It resumed politics as the government of BNP founder Ziaur Rahman withdrew the ban of religion-based politics.

Asked about possible success in the takeover process, researcher Prof Barakat told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday: “I have learnt that the government has failed to take over the controversial MLM firms, including Jubok and Destiny, for repaying public funds due to bureaucratic tangles.

“But I firmly believe that a strong political will can break the bureaucratic tangles, and the government will be able to nationalise the Jamaat-linked financial institutions including Islami Bank within a short period of time.”

A former president of Bangladesh Economic Association, Prof Barakat also said: “I estimated that Jamaat spends 20% of profits from its firms under political consideration.”