Lead news of different print media in Dhaka today was that of the ten years imprisonment of businessman Giausuddin Mamun. Like previous cases of conviction, todays news item also did not include the detail of the charges or judicial analysis of the judgement. The Daily Star reporting of today was typical such effort. Naturally it gave this news the top news treatment. Except stating  that the judge “…delivered the verdict just in a minute saying the allegations brought against Mamun and his wife have been proved”, the reporting did not bother to even mention the accusitions that culminated in this sentence. And typical of Daily Star-Prothom ALo, another reporting, full of unsubstatiated rhetorics  already published in DS several times, accompanied this report.

 This is really a sorry state of affair and condemnable journalistic ethics. Newspapers are having a field day on their innovative news creation, the judges are not bothering to explain the justification of their sentence, after closed door proceedings, the accused are being thrown in a jail cell for 10, 20, 30 years. Everything is going on smoothly except for the fact that their is a total denial of the right of the accused to defend themselves or make their case in front of the nation.

 

I recently got hold of the following document that was presented to defend former state minister Mr. Iqbal Hasan Mahmood, who was arrested along with his wife, student son and teenage daughter. I am publishing it here for my readers. This document was specifically prepared for  Mr. Mahmood. But certain facts mentioned here will shed light on several much talked about allegations against many politicians of previous government.

  

The Case of Iqbal Hassan Mahmood

View from a different perspective

The Difference

The media in the country is currently full of stories of corruption by politicians of every hue. The latter are being accused and found guilty of misuse of official position for personal gain, bribery, extortion, misappropriation of public funds in development projects, abuse of relief materials, being a habitual bank defaulter and becoming immensely rich through illegal means during the last five years.

However, the case of Iqbal Hassan Mahmood, former Minister of State in charge of the Power Division of GOB is different in more than one ways. Thus:

 

       He has not been accused of any corruption or corrupt practices undertaken while discharging his duties in the Power Division of the Ministry of Energy.

       He has not been accused of using his official position to further his business interests.

       He has not been accused of indulging in any irregularities while overseeing development activities in his constituency (Sirajganj).

       He has not been accused in any extortion case.

       He has not been accused to be a bank defaulter as a businessman.

       No proceeding was ever instituted against him by the income tax department during his life as a businessman.

       However, he has now been accused of avoiding income tax through concealment of some properties, which amounts to about 5% of the total wealth he has acquired through legitimate 100% export business over a period of nearly 30 years.

The following write up gives a background of the case, draws some true pictures, which contradicts some misleading media reports, elaborates on the charge sheet and court orders and mentions the defence arguments in favour of Mr. Mahmood.

Background

Iqbal Hassan Mahmood is widely recognized as a scion of a distinguished family of North Bengal being the elder son of late Abdullah Al-Mahmood-a former Minister of Industries of the Government of Pakistan. Mr. Al-Mahmood’s family is respected for having served the people of the locality in multiple sectors of social and economic developments since the days of British India. On his own Iqbal Hassan Mahmood has pioneered manufacture and export of ready-made garments since the late seventies of the last century. He has helped build several 100% export oriented garment industries and his “Apex Textile Group” employs nearly 3750 people and annually exports home textiles to US and Europe worth nearly $40 million (US). He is recipient of several awards for distinguished performance as an innovative exporter of Bangladesh.

In 2001 he was elected an MP from Sirajganj constituency in North Bengal and joined the Government as Minister of State in charge of Power Division of the Ministry of Energy. The Minister in charge of the Division was the Prime Minister herself. It was widely reported in the media that Mr. Mahmood was made ineffective as a Minister less than two years after his appointment and the Office of the Prime Minister took over all decision making initiatives of the Power Division.  Later he was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture.

On February 4, 2007, men in plainclothes claiming to be Bangladesh’s “joint task force” took him into custody after midnight. Mr. Mahmood was arrested in his home in front of his wife and children, blindfolded, handcuffed and driven at around 2 AM to an interrogation center, where he was interrogated blindfolded and taken to the nearest Police Station the day after next and produced before a court which, in accordance with a newly introduced law, refused him bail. He was sent to jail under emergency provisions.

At the end of investigations by the “Task Force” Mahmood’s wife Rumana Mahmood, son Abed Hassan Mahmood and unmarried daughter Sarah Hasin Mahmood were put in prison and are being prosecuted in court as abettors to his alleged crime of “hiding illegally earned money for purposes of tax evasion”. Since bank accounts, saving instruments and shares were bought and kept in their names by Mahmood they are held as alleged abettors. It is alleged that he was engaged in “corruption” even though he never engaged in business with any Government agency. He bought and imported only from private sources and exported to private buyers abroad. His buyers include, IKEA, Red Cats Group, etc. Thus the question of getting undue favors from Government agencies or misusing official position as a minister to influence business decisions never occurred.

Misleading Media Reports and the Reality

Media plays a vital role in endeavoring to expose instances of corruption in the public domain. However it has also been observed that quite often stories are published which has not been thoroughly verified and essentially based on hearsays and wild conjectures. Unfortunately for Iqbal Hassan Mahmood, the print media has often been harsh and wildly off the mark in reporting cases of irregularities in the Power Sector during his tenure as a Minister of State in charge of that division in the Energy Ministry. For instance, it was often reported that there had been irregularities in the process of evaluating and awarding of power projects. Without verification of facts it was insinuated that he had indulged in corrupt practices. The language used would typically run like “ He is reported to have taken part in shady deals”, “It is said that he has stashed away millions of dollars in such and such power project deal”, “Agency reports (without any mention of the agency concerned) say that …………….” etc. But let us look at the ground realities based on verifiable indicators:

(a)     Not a single large Power project came to fruition during the last BNP Government due to bureaucratic interference from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. Incidentally, the PM was herself the Minister in Charge of the Power Division and had withdrawn all decision making power from the Minister of State. A chronological run down of decision making in case of the 450 MW Sirajganj Power Project has been appended in Annex 1. It clearly shows that Mr. Mahmood was hardly able to influence the decision making process. Comments from the World Bank Vice President can be seen in Annex 2. This was true for most of the projects.

(b)     After promulgation of Emergency on 1/11 the Government instituted a thorough enquiry by a high-powered expert’s committee headed by Prof.Dr. Abdul Matin Patwari (former VC BUET and IUT) with high-level representation from the army to look into the reported corruption in awarding Power project contracts during the previous regime. The expert’s committee cleared the five deals initiated by the past Government (Please see Annex 3).

(c)      Mr. Mahmood has often been mentioned in newspapers in the case of “KHAMBA” which supplied concrete poles to Rural Electrification Board. There is a print-media-created perception in the public mind that this company through aegis of the Minister of State has misappropriated “more than thousand crores”. In actuality these procurement decisions were made at the REB level and the files did not come up to the State Minster’s level for decision and he had no stake in the company. These poles were procured under both GOB and foreign funding.

(d)       More importantly, during first year of BNP rule the pole business was monopolized by the GEMCON group, which is headed by Col. (retd.) Shahed. KHAMBA and several other suppliers participated in this business for the first time in 2002-2003. The total concrete pole business during the BNP regime amounted to Tk. 879 Crores and the GEMCON group maintained its dominance by claiming Tk.511 crores of the business (58%). KHAMBA supplied to the tune of Tk.101 crores worth of poles (11.8%). (Please see details in the table given in Annex 4).

The Charge Sheet and Judgment against Iqbal Hassan Mahmood and his entire family

The charge sheet submitted by ACC officials (please see Annex 5) against the family stated that according to Mr.Mahmood’s wealth statement his family’s net worth amounted to Tk. 35.95 crores whereas according to the “task force” investigations their wealth amounted to Tk. 38.42 crores – a difference of 6.8%. The charge sheet also accused him of having acquired Tk. 4,96,11,916 through illegal means. However the Special Court No. 5 while delivering the judgment ordered confiscation of four items of properties worth Tk. 2.23 crores which amounts to 5.8% of the wealth possessed by the family (as per ACC’s findings).

Details of the four items of properties alleged to have been acquired illegally and subsequently ordered to be confiscated by the court along with the argument provided by the defence are given below:

       One BMW jeep was bought under MP’s tax-free provisions. For the purchase of this car Apex Weaving and Finishing Mills Ltd provided funding out of a loan from IDLC. Defence witnesses from IDLC confirmed the loan to Apex. Apex presented the Board Resolution in which the decision to extend the loan to Mr. Mahmood (a sponsor Director/MD). Interestingly, exactly similar arrangement for funding was made for the purchase of a second BMW jeep for Mr. Harunur Rashid, Chairman of Apex. The BMW belonging to Mr. Mahmood, worth Tk. 47.76 lakh has been ordered to be confiscated.

       Two plots of land in Basundhara housing project for which a part payment has been made. Only provisional allotment has been by the housing company and the defence stated that the money was deposited out of loan from Home Textiles (a private limited company partly owned by Mr. Mahmood).  Witness from the housing company did submit that officials from Home Textile came to deposit booking money on behalf of Mr. Mahmood.  Interestingly, exactly similar arrangement for funding was made purchase of similar Basundhara plots for Mr. Harunur Rashid, Chairman of Apex and part owner of Home Textiles. The part payment made to the tune of Tk 74 lakhs have been ordered to be confiscated.

       A bank account in the Dhaka branch of State Bank of India in which the house rent received for Mr. Mahmood’s brother’s house in Dhaka used to be deposited was not mentioned in the wealth statement. The house rent received by Mr. Mahmood’s brother was reflected in the latter’s income tax returns. But the court was not convinced and ordered confiscation of Tk.2.38 lakh in the said bank account.

       In the ACC findings it was reported that Tk. 1 crore was found in the name of Rumana Mahmood in One Entertainment books of account as “shares and/or dividend”. The defence disowned this amount and stated that he had no clue how and why this was deposited in the name his wife. Some of the prosecution witnesses stated that the sum was deposited in the form of cheque and pay order from persons unknown to Mr. Mahmood. It was also argued and evidence produced in some transactions in One Entertainment the signature of Rumana Mahmood was forged. However the court was not convinced and ordered confiscation of this Tk. 1 crore. Mr. Mahmood disowns this amount and has no desire to contest this confiscation order because he never claimed to own it. Rumana Mahmood did become a director of the company but only paid Tk. 1.25 lakh for purchase of shares.

Concluding Remarks

       Iqbal Hassan Mahmood has not been accused of any corruption or corrupt practices undertaken while discharging his duties in the Power Division of the Ministry of Energy.

       He has not been accused of using his official position to further his business interests.

       He has not been accused of indulging in any irregularities while overseeing development activities in his constituency (Sirajganj).

       He has not been accused of having taken part in any extortion case.

       He has not been accused to be a bank defaulter as a businessman.

       No proceeding was ever instituted against him by the income tax department during his life as businessman.

       However, he has now been accused of avoiding income tax through concealment of some properties, which were acquired through loans taken from his own company. The loans are to be repaid over time through adjustment of dividends received from those companies.

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