Vol. 5 Num 1016 Tue. April 10, 2007  
Front Page

Hasina sued for extortion
Westmont Power Company chief alleges he was forced to pay Hasina Tk 3 crore when she was prime minister

Former prime minister and Awami League (AL) chief Sheikh Hasina was sued yesterday in connection with an extortion of Tk 3 crore.

Tajul Islam Farook, chairman of Westmont Power Company, filed the case with Tejgaon police station under the non-bailable sections of the penal code.

In the case Tajul brought allegations against Hasina of extortion and abuse of power in 1998, when she was the prime minister.

Hasina, who is now on a visit to the US, recently made some comments there criticising the non-party caretaker government and the Election Commission for 'delaying' the next general election on 'different pretexts'. She is supposed to return home on April 26 or 27.

The case was filed at 4:15pm yesterday, but Tejgaon police officials refused to comment on it. If the prima facie case is proven to be well-founded through investigation, an arrest warrant will be issued against the former prime minister, according to the law.

The case was filed under sections 385, 386, 387 and 109 of the penal code. In accordance with the sections, a person can be sentenced to five years to life in jail if the court finds him or her guilty.

According to the constitution a person is not eligible for contesting in elections, if s/he is convicted of a crime and sentenced to at least two years in prison on charges of moral turpitude, unless five years have passed since his or her release from jail.

Following the launch of the ongoing crackdown on suspected corrupt politicians on February 4 by the caretaker government, speculations have been mounting that there might be a change in the leadership of major political parties.

BNP's senior joint secretary general and elder son of immediate past prime minister Khaleda Zia, Tarique Rahman, had been arrested on March 7, and later an extortion case was filed against him. Besides, a number of senior leaders of Awami League and BNP have been arrested since the crackdown began.

Tajul is the chairman of Westmont Power Company, Bangladesh which set up and launched a 90mw barge-mounted power plant in 2000. Its parent company is Malaysian.

Westmont's handling of the project, which was one of the three first private barge-mounted power projects in the country, came under questions as the plant had been set up inside Baghabari inland port ignoring Power Development Board's (PDB) recommended location nearby. Besides, PDB had a host of complaints against Westmont which were later resolved.

Security guards and other staff of Tajul Islam's office told The Daily Star yesterday that he was off to Sylhet to visit the shrine of Shahjalal.

He is scheduled to return to Dhaka today, they said.

Wishing anonymity one of the staff said Tajul seemed very tense.

They however refused to give any more detail about Tajul and his visit to Sylhet while this correspondent visited his Gulshan office and his residence last night.

The security guards did not let this correspondent enter Tajul's residence saying all his family members were in Sylhet too.

The case statement says that the government took the initiative to fulfil the demand for power. Tajul then contacted a foreign company named Westmont Offshore and convinced them to set up a power plant in Bangladesh.

The complainant said he and the foreign company opened a company in Bangladesh named Westmont Bangladesh Ltd with its office at 54 New Eskaton. Tajul said he became the chairman of the company -- which was registered with the Joint Stock Companies & Firms and the Board of Investment.

On December 15, 1996, the Power Development Board (PDB) invited international tender for setting up barge-mounted power plants in Khulna, Haripur, Shikalbaha/ Baghabari.

From among the bidders, the government invited four companies including Westmont Bangladesh Ltd.

The complainant mentioned that on March 13, 1997, a written agreement between his company and the government was signed for setting up the power plants. He also said the project implementation was delayed due to floods in 1998.

On July 22 the same year, Sheikh Hasina's personal staff Manu Majumder told him over phone that a terrible fate awaited Tajul as the work order for setting up the barge-mounted power plants was going to be cancelled.

On July 24, 1998, Manu phoned Tajul again and asked him to meet the Netri (Sheikh Hasina). On August 8 the same year, Manu Majumder went to Tajul's Gulshan office at 7:30pm and picked him up in a Pajero to take him to the then prime minister's official residence.

On his way out, Tajul told his three office personnel -- Abdul Basit, Muktar Hossain and Syed Luthfor Rahman -- who were present at the office at that time that he was going to the prime minister's official residence.

Tajul mentioned in the case statement, "Sheikh Hasina told me that everybody pays toll for every big work. You won a big work order, but you did not pay any toll -- what is the reason? Your work order for Baghabari plant will be cancelled."

The complainant also alleged that the then prime minister told him that if he failed to pay Tk 3 crore in toll, his work order would be cancelled. She also threatened to send him to jail or maim him if he did not oblige.

He also alleged that he sought for a month's time to pay the tolls, but Sheikh Hasina refused to allow him any time.

The complainant said then he returned to his office and informed his colleagues of the matter.

On December 9, 1998, PDB sent separate letters to the secretaries to the Power Division and power, energy and mineral resources ministry seeking government approval to cancel the work order of the project.

Following the move, Tajul called Manu over the phone on December 12, 1998 requesting him to make arrangements for seeing the prime minister. The same day, he along with Manu in a Pajero went to Hasina's residence with a suitcase containing Tk 3 crore in 600 bundles of Tk 500 notes. His friend Baset was also present during his meeting with the prime minister.

The statement added that Tajul handed over the money to Sheikh Hasina at Ganobhaban at 7:45pm and the work order was not cancelled.

Tajul in the statement mentioned that Sheikh Hasina officially inaugurated the plant on August 3, 1999.

In the statement, Tajul also said, "With the help of Manu and by abusing the power of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina harmed me both physically and mentally by forcefully realising Tk 3 crore in extortion from me. She tarnished my image with my foreign partner -- who is also aware of the matter."

The statement said that in fear of death he did not dare to file any case at that time against the accused as they have ties with armed criminals.

Related Story

Hasina says she will face situation on her return
Awami League (AL) will find out the reasons behind the filing of the extortion case against its President Sheikh Hasina in the changed political situation.