Portraying Tarique Rahman as a symbol of “kleptocratic government and violent politics” in Bangladesh, the US embassy in Dhaka even recommended blocking his entry into the United States.
The embassy believed Tarique was “guilty of egregious political corruption that has had a serious adverse effect on US national interests”, namely the stability of democratic institutions and US foreign assistance goals, a leaked US embassy cable says.
James F Moriarty, the then US ambassador, sent the confidential cable on November 3, 2008 to Washington and WikiLeaks published it on August 30 this year.
He cited several examples of Tarique's major corruption as he described his worries in the cable about the possible impact of giving him access into the US.
The decision in this regard, however, could not be known. Tarique has been staying in London since September 2008.
About six months after Moriarty's recommendation, Geeta Pasi, chargé d' affaires of US embassy in Dhaka, sent another cable to Washington on Tarique. It said the State Department was considering a determination for visa revocation for him under the Presidential Proclamation.
Tarique's corrupt practices have had deleterious effects on the US interests, Moriarty wrote, adding “His antics have weakened public confidence in government and eroded the stability of democratic institutions.”
“Tarique's well-established reputation for flouting the rule of law directly threatens US financial assistance goals directed toward reforming legal codes, strengthening good governance and halting judicial abuses.”
The bribery, embezzlement, and culture of corruption that the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's elder son has helped create and maintain in Bangladesh has directly and irreparably undermined US businesses, resulting in many lost opportunities, Moriarty wrote.
“His theft of millions of dollars in public money has undermined political stability in this moderate, Muslim-majority nation and subverted US attempts to foster a stable democratic government, a key objective in this strategically important region,” reads the cable.
Tarique's flagrant corruption has also seriously threatened specific US Mission goals, it said.
The US embassy in Dhaka has three key priorities for Bangladesh: democratisation, development, and denial of space to terrorists. “Tarique's audaciously corrupt activities jeopardize all three.”
“His history of embezzlement, extortion, and interference in the judicial process undermines the rule of law and threatens to upend the US goal of a stable, democratic Bangladesh. The climate of corrupt business practices and bribe solicitation that Tarique fostered derailed US efforts to promote economic development by discouraging much needed foreign investment and complicating the international operations of US companies.”
Tarique's “flagrant disregard” for the rule of law had provided potent ground for terrorists to gain a foothold in Bangladesh while also exacerbating poverty and weakening democratic institutions, the cable said.
“In short, much of what is wrong in Bangladesh can be blamed on Tarique and his cronies,” Moriarty wrote.
The US ambassador recommended that Tarique could be subject to Presidential Proclamation 7750 that can block one's entry into the US for the aforementioned reasons.
The cable, however, said the embassy was not seeking to apply the proclamation for Tarique's wife Zubaida Rahman, their daughter Zaima Rahman or his mother Khaleda Zia.
The elder son of Khaleda Zia, who led the government in 1991-1996 and later 2001-2006, became an all influential party leader during BNP's second term in office.
During the period, he established an alternative centre of power at Hawa Bhaban, the then political office of the chairperson. It was open secret that Tarique and his cronies used to interfere in the government activities and control all major business deals.
He, however, became powerless after his arrest during the tenure of immediate past army-backed caretaker government.
Terming him “the notorious and widely feared” son of former premier Khaleda Zia, the US ambassador mentioned that Tarique, arrested in an anti-corruption crackdown in March 2007, was released on bail on September 3 the next year. He flew to the UK on September 11 for medical treatment.
As a condition for his release, Tarique had to quit the post of BNP's senior joint secretary general, after enjoying the position for about five years.
But still abroad, he was made all-powerful senior vice chairman in December 2009 with a clear mandate to lead BNP in absence of his mother.
The cable termed Tarique “notorious for flagrantly and frequently demanding bribes in connection with government procurement actions and appointments to political office”.
Saying that Tarique's release occurred despite multiple pending cases against him on charges of corruption, extortion, bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion, Moriarty wrote: “With deep political ties that reach the highest court in the land, Tarique managed to manipulate the judicial process and overcome a concerted effort by the Caretaker Government to block his bail.”
“We believe Tarique has several passports, including a new one in which the UK issued him a visa in September. Another passport contains a five year multiple-entry B1/B2 visa (issued May 11, 2005). We suspect that passport is being held by the government.”
Bangladesh's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) levelled serious charges against Tarique, the cable said, adding he reportedly had accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit wealth. There are multiple extortion cases pending against him, founded on the testimony of numerous prominent business owners who he victimised and exploited, the cable said.
“In one case, Tarique allegedly threatened Al Amin Construction owner Amin Ahmed with closure of the company unless he received a payment of 150,000 USD. Other local business leaders, including Mohammad Aftab Uddin Khan of Reza Construction Ltd, Mir Zahir Hossian of Mir Akhter Hossain Ltd, and Harun Ferdousi have each filed accusations detailing a systematic pattern of extortion on a multi-million dollar scale.”
The ACC had also filed charges of concealing ill-gotten wealth, and the National Board of Revenue had brought tax evasion charges against Tarique, it added.
Tarique's corrupt activities were not limited to extortion of local companies, Moriarty wrote.
Saying that the ACC had also uncovered evidence in several bribery cases involving both foreign and local firms and individuals, he listed the following examples:
According to a witness who funnelled bribes from Siemens to Tarique and his brother Koko, Tarique received a bribe of approximately two percent on all Siemens deals in Bangladesh (paid in US dollars). This case is currently being pursued by Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture and the FBI.
ACC sources report that the Harbin Company, a Chinese construction company, paid $750,000 to Tarique to open a plant. According to the ACC, one of Tarique's cronies received the bribe and transported it to Singapore for deposit with Citibank.
An ACC investigator advised Embassy officials that Monem Construction paid a bribe worth $450,000 to Tarique to secure contracts.
KABIR MURDER CASE
The ACC has evidence that Tarique accepted a $3.1 million bribe to thwart the prosecution of a murder case against Sanvir Sobhan, the son of Bashundhara Group chairman. Sanvir was accused in the killing of Humayun Kabir, a director of the business conglomerate. An investigation by the ACC confirmed Tarique had solicited the payment, promising to clear Sanvir of all charges.
Moriarty also wrote that beyond bribery and extortion, the ACC reported Tarique had also become involved in an elaborate and lucrative embezzlement scheme. With the help of several accomplices, he succeeded in looting $3 lakh from the Zia Orphanage Trust fund.
He quoted an ACC source saying Tarique, who is a co-signatory to the trust fund account, used funds from the trust for a land purchase in his hometown. He also provided signed checks drawn from the orphanage fund accounts to BNP party members for their 2006 election campaigns.