Update 03/19/10: Sajeeb Wazed Joy accused of running illegal VOIP operations by Opposition Chief Whip Zoinul Abedin Faroque MP. Cases filed against Faroque all over the country; arrest warrant issued against him. Government launches anti-VOIP drive against private telephone operators. 

Update 12/21/09: Advisor Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury just muddied the waters, even further today, blatantly and categorically lying about his trip to the United States at the press conference.

When asked about his trip:

Dr. Chowdhury said that he did not do anything except for participate in an expatriate (BDI) conference.

However, this press release from the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington DC (page 15 of 18) shows that he came down to Washington DC the day after the conference closed, had meetings at the Department of Energy, and had lunch as the US Chamber of Commerce with, alongside others, officials from Chevron.

Original Post:

On 17th December, Amar Desh published a news report alleging that Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, took bribes from Chevron, the US power giant, with Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury acting as the middleman. The report made these specific allegation:

1. This bribe was given in exchange for allowing Chevron to proceed with the installation of a $52 million compressor station. The installation of this compressor station was awarded to Chevron without inviting any tenders from competing bidders.

2. A $5 million bribe was taken from Chevron in exchange of this work-order.

3. Out of this amount, $2 milion was given to Sajeeb Wazed Joy by Dr. Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury on 14th October, 2009 at Texas.

4. The proposed compressor station is currently unnecessary.

5. The above allegation are made in a letter on Petobangla (state-run organization responsible for oil and gas exploration) stationery, which was sent to the Prime Minister’s office.

6. Subsequently, Petrobangla and the Ministry of Power, Energy, and Natural Resources exchanged letters about which organization should be the lead agency in investigating this matter.

The first thing to note about this report is that Amar Desh is not claiming to have found out this alleged corruption by themselves. Rather, they are claiming they have the copies of the specific documents that record these allegations and the subsequent exchange of letters between the two agencies (quiet understandable given the people involved). The allegations are extraordinarily detailed. They mention the project in which this alleged financial impropriety took place, the reason for the bribe, the amount of the bribe, and even the location where bribe was handed over. What is left unmentioned, but remains pertinent, is that Sheikh Hasina is the minister in charge of this ministry, and thus, bears direct responsibility for all activities and transactions in this ministry.

Now, had this been the end of the matter, the story would have died down in a couple of days. The editorial stance of Amar Desh is decidedly anti-government, and absent further developments, this story would have gone nowehere. However, this story was given further rleevance by the Awami League themselves.

At a discussion meeting held the day after this report was published, Awami League leaders roundly criticized this news report, and the newspaper publishing this report. The money quote would be from Jahangir Alam Nanak, Minister of State for Local Government and Rural Development, who addressed his comments directly to Mahmudur Rahman, the editor of Amar Desh: “Do not exceed the limits of our patience. If people get angry, you won’t be able to come out in public. You want to belittle Sajeeb Wazed Joy and rehabilitate Tareq Rahman? That will never happen.”

The over-the-top reaction from Awami League leaders was a fairly accurate representation of their tolerance of negative press. No one has the right to threaten a newspaper and its editor simply because a report containing an allegation of corruption is published. One suspects that with the negative news emanating from the Copenhagen where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasins is currently leading a high-profile delegation (although a final deal will definitely materialize), the stripping of Jatiyo Party MP Abul Kashem of his post by the High Court, the news about Jubo League men beating up two reporters in Bogra, the Supreme Court holding the appointment of the Law Secretary illegal, the fact that disqualified MP Jasimuddin is still drawing benefits from the Parliament Secretariat, and pressure mounting in the government to stop extra-judicial “crossfire” murders and bring RAB under accountability, the government and the ruling party was already buffeted by an extremely negative news cycle. Meanwhile, the opposition BNP appears rejuvenated after its successful council. The Amar Desh report was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

 Today, Amar Desh published the rejoinder that the government sent in, and its own response to the rejoinder. The government rejoinder does not address the main allegations raised in the news report. As Amar Desh’s response correctly notes, the newspaper is not pulling these facts out of thin air. They claim to have copies of the documents that detail this allegation and the subsequent bureaucratic hissy-fit. The governemnt’s rejoinder ignores the initial complaint sent from Petrobangla, and whether the accusations made in that letter were true.

Assuming that these allegations are completely false, it should be an easy matter to disprove them. They can be rebutted point-by-point. One hopes that that is the path the government takes; rather than resorting to jingoistic threats against journalistic independence. This is also a good point to remind ourselves that we are all innocent until proven guilty, and those who are proved innocent can then, in turn, bring their own claims in a court of law. Also, such allegations are rather a rather common occurrence in democracies. Factual inquiries should be met by facts, and facts alone. Along that path lies democratic maturity.