Would ‘Kokogate’ spare Khaleda Zia’s family?
By A.H. Jaffor Ullah
Khaleda Zia has every reason to consternate when all the major global news network such as Reuters, AP, AFP, etc., are reporting that her youngest son, Arafat Rahman Koko, is in the thick of an extortion operation centered in Dhaka during 2002-2006 when she was the PM of Bangladesh. For better or worse, let me call this investigation the Kokogate. Bangladesh has never experienced anything big like this and trust me, when it will be over, there will be casualties. This investigation has the underpinning of quite a few foreign governments who are very eager to see that the culprits who ran this extortion scheme are taken to task.
The timing for the U.S. government officials to visit Dhaka could not have been better. The newly elected government of Hasina wants to put an end to political extortion and the U.S. authorities know that it will be easier to make the extortion case against Khaleda Zia's son right now than say a year ago when a caretaker government was running the country.
Khaleda Zia had it too good when she was running the country from October 2001 to October 2006. She let her eldest son, Tarek Rahman, run a parallel government sitting in ‘Hawa Bhavan’, while her second son, Arafat Rahman Koko, an “accomplished” businessman run the business side of the family. How good things could be for Zia family. Political power, money, they have everything. But like any side story of Mahabharata, all the power, all the misbegotten wealth, could not keep the family in high standing.
Khaleda Zia suffered a catastrophic defeat in December 29, 2008 parliamentary election. She never offered her concession speech to the victor, Sheikh Hasina. To add insult to injury, she said that the election was rigged on the face of all the newspaper report that which stated that this was the most fair election this nation of 145 million ever had. Hundreds of foreign observers also had opined that the election was peaceful and fair and there weren't any violence on the day of election.
Khaleda Zia's worst fear may come true now that the foreign governments’ agents are in Dhaka to brief the ACC, the chief corruption fighting wing of the government, and other agencies of Bangladesh government. It was very convenient for her in old days to say that her family has many political enemies and all the allegations are false and politically motivated. However, Bangladeshis are not in a mood to listen to her vituperation.
Most newspaper editorials published in Dhaka had commended the works of foreign government. Bangladesh's people are also most eager to see that the $ 200 million, which Khaleda Zia’s “smart” son with so much business acumen had extracted from German company Siemens, find its way to return government treasury. China Communications Construction Co, a giant port builder in China also bribed Khaleda Zia’s son, Koko, to obtain a lucrative construction job in Bangladesh. It seems as if Khaleda’s two boys became Mr. Ten Percent in the heydays of Khaleda rule!
I see a parallel between what happens in low-income urban minority families in America with that of what happened to Khaleda Zia's family. Simply driven by greed many young men in urban America get involved in illegal drug business. They willingly take the risk, earn fast buck, and give part of the easy money to their single mother who gladly accepts it only to find a few days later that her son was gunned down by the rival gang in a turf fight. Well, something almost similar happens to Khaleda Zia family.
The two sons of Khaleda Zia get involved in making easy but illegal money because they know very well that as long as their mother is in catbird seat of power in Bangladesh, they could extort money from foreign companies who want to do business in Bangladesh. It will be laughable if I hear that Khaleda Zia was not aware of her sons' involvement in all these misadventures. Now she will have to prepare herself to pay the penalty for the sin of her sons. I sometimes wonder if General Zia were alive today, how he was to react to his sons’ follies.
The heart of the problem the Zia family is facing these days lies in the fact that these folks are not educated at all. People go to the seat of higher learning to open their mind and learn from the follies made by powerful people throughout the history starting from antiquity. A truly educated person won't do what Koko and Tarek have done most willingly. They simply thought that they are untouchable. Did not Khaleda Zia warn them about their high risk misadventure when they were abusing power that emanated from their mother? In my judgment, Khaleda Zia bears some responsibility in this fiasco.
Please do compare the performance of Khaleda Zia's family with that of Sheikh Hasina vis-à-vis influence peddling and making tons of money with it. Unlike Khaleda Zia whose family is into hedonism and making gobs of money to sustain such worldly pleasure, Hasina Wajed gave education to her two children. Also, I am yet to see a bona fide complaint made against Hasina Wajed’s two kids in respect to making easy money by influence peddling. Lately, in the Internet I read some unsubstantiated allegations, which stated that Sheikh Hasina’s son has business of worth $ 300 million. The last I know that Hasina’s son was employed and then he went for grad school. A person who has assets over $ 300 million won’t work under another person or will not go for a master’s degree. Until no confirmation comes, I would characterize this mere a mudslinging to redirect our attention from emerging Kokogate.
From various news reports on Kokogate I learned that besides Khaleda Zia’s two sons quite a few BNP ministers from 2001 to 2006 are also partners in this extortion scheme. The ACC officials in Dhaka are tightlipped about the identity of this crime syndicate. During Khaleda Zia’s reign these politicians thought no power inside Bangladesh could ever touch them. But sadly how wrong they were!
The ill-gotten $ 200 million, which was laundered by various financial institutions, is now ensconced in a bank in Singapore. This rumor about Khaleda Zia’s sons depositing millions of bribe money in Singapore bank was circulating in various South Asian websites in the Net for more than a year but when 2 U.S. government agents from Washington DC came to Dhaka to investigate the laundered money, many heads were turning in Dhaka. Also, there is a deafening silence in BNP camps and that includes Khaleda Zia herself.
In a just society no crime should ever go unpunished, but then Bangladesh never aspired to have a just society. Even then, a crime committed by Khaleda Zia’s two illiterate sons is not going to go unpunished. I am hoping the wheel of justice would turn finally and the sons of Khaleda Zia and their sidekicks from BNP would rot in jail. This time the authorities should not treat them as VIP. They have committed a serious crime when they thought they were above the law. Now harsh reality is setting in. The take home message is — no one is above the law.
There should be learning for Khaleda Zia too. She failed to educate her sons and that was not all. She let loose her boys to control the government and sell favors. Many sidekicks gathered around Khaleda Zia’s boys and we learned that they were all unsavory characters like her sons. Together, they became a crime syndicate of high order. Their profligate lifestyle in Dhaka during Khaleda’s rule was talk-of-the-town. Thus, when Tarek Rahman’s sidekick, Mamun, was arrested in early 2007, it became a very hot topic of conversation both in the media and in drawing rooms.
In summary, the revelation that Khaleda Zia’s “smart” businessman son Koko had ensconced a cool sum of $ 200 million in Singapore Bank is making news allover the world. This money was not hard earned, but came as manna from heaven. Thanks to Khaleda Zia for paving the way to heaven for her sons. During her “difficult” reign, dollar bills were literally falling from sky but it was for her two sons and a bunch of cronies. The payback time nears now. Who says – crime pays? Similar to single mothers in Brooklyn, Bronx, and many other cities in America, who found it out that the crime spree of their kids did not last long, Khaleda Zia will also learn the same bitter lesson rather belatedly. Nobody is above the law. Those two notorious and profligate boys of Bangladesh’s ex-PM Khaleda will this time learn a lesson of lifetime. The bread of deceit was sweet to Tarek and Koko; but afterwards their mouths shall be filled with gravel. Need I say more?
Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA
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