It has been two years since the anti-casino drive in the capital, and action on the several dozens of cases seems to have almost come to a halt.
Two years ago on this day, on 18 September, 2019, illegal gambling was unearthed in the course of drives at several clubs in Motijheel of the capital. After the drive, several clubs in Motijheel and Paltan were shut down.
Fourteen Awami League and Juba League leaders and ward councillors like Samrat and Arman, were arrested on charges of operating casinos in the capital. A total of 55 cases were filed against them by the police, Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Officials concerned have filed charge-sheets in 36 cases while investigation of the remaining 19 cases is not over.
Officials of Rab, CID, and the ACC filed the 55 cases with different police stations of the capital under narcotics, special power, and money laundering acts. Of the cases, Rab and CID filed 32 cases, while the ACC filed 23 cases, against 13 persons on charges of amassing illegal assets.
Investigators say completing the investigation of the cases is being delayed due to the ongoing corona pandemic and that they have almost finished their investigation of the cases. In the cases in which charge-sheets have been issued, charges have not been framed yet.
Although there have been allegations of extortion against each person arrested since the beginning of the operation, no such case has been filed. The issue of extortion has not even been mentioned in the submitted charge-sheets of other cases either.
Rab filed 18 cases against the accused while the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police filed 14 cases under the Money Laundering Act, alleging criminal income and involvement in laundering money out of the country. The ACC has filed 23 cases alleging illegal acquisition of assets.
CID Additional Special Superintendent of Police, Azad Rahman, told The Business Standard (TBS) that charge-sheets for 11 of the 14 cases, under the Money Laundering Act, have been submitted. The charge-sheets for three cases, including the case against Juba League leader Samrat, are stuck halfway.
Sources close to the investigation said letters were sent to Singapore and Malaysia on 25 October last year asking for information about the money smuggled by Samrat. The charge-sheet for the case is stuck since no reply to the letter has been received yet.
According to ACC sources, the ACC has submitted charge-sheets in 10 cases, including the one against Samrat.
Rab's Law and Media Wing Commander, Khandaker Al Moin, said Rab was tasked with investigating 13 cases related to the casino scandal. After the investigation, charge-sheets for all the 13 cases have been submitted.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Police's Detective Branch (DB) was tasked with investigating five cases, but the DB has submitted charge-sheet(s) for only one case.
Of the 14 people arrested in the casino cases, three have already been released on bail. Ward councilor Moinul Haque was granted bail in July last year. He is the councilor of ward-38 of Dhaka Metropolitan South City Corporation and a member of the executive committee of Dhaka Metropolitan Awami League. Charge-sheets have been submitted against him in cases filed under Arms and Narcotics Acts. Earlier, Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) director in-charge, Lokman Hossain Bhuiyan, and President of Kalabagan Krira Chakra and Krishak League leader, Shafiqul Alam (Firoz), were released on bail. Meanwhile, the expelled leader of Juba League Samrat and influential contractor, GK Shamim, are undergoing treatment at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
Spooky atmosphere in club area
The Motijheel club neighbourhood in the capital, once busy day and night with gambling action, is now a very spooky place. The area has come to a standstill after the anti-casino drive by law enforcement agencies. Public movement in the clubs is limited and many of the people once actively engaged with the clubs, rarely enter club premises.
On Friday afternoon visit, most of the clubs in the neighbourhood were found closed. One or two clubs had security personnel, but they were unwilling to talk.
Since the anti-casino campaign that started in September 2019, the institutions have not yet returned to normal.
Saif Ahmed (pseudonym), security guard of an elite club, said due to the corona pandemic, entry to the club premises is prohibited now.
Arman Hossain, a shopkeeper in the neighbourhood, has been doing business in the club area for at least 15 years. He told TBS that the place is usually full of people since it is a commercial area. However, the situation in the clubs is not as it was before.
Md Ibrahim, a hotel businessman near the Dhaka Wanderers Club, said a lot of people come here on other days of the week, except holidays. But now most come here for work. Earlier, the place used to be full of people at night also. It goes without saying, that has been almost non-existent since the casino raid.
The previous festive atmosphere at Mohammedan Sporting Club Limited, Fakirerpool Young Men's Club, Victoria Club, Arambagh Sports Association, Azad Sporting Club, Sonali Atit Krira Chakra, Dilkusha Sporting Club, and Dhaka Wanderers Club, is no more now. Most of the clubs are now only a shell with a signboard in name alone.