A senior minister in the Bangladeshi cabinet has come under scanner following the seizure of a huge stash of money from his personal aide,with graft allegations flying thick and the opposition baying for his blood.
A veteran parliamentarian and senior leader of the ruling Awami League,Suranjit Sengupta who had taken over the newly-created Railway Ministry only five months back,claimed he had no link to the seized amount and pointed at a deliberate campaign against him.
On Monday night,an amount said to be as high as Taka 70 lakh with no known source of origin,was seized by law enforcement agencies from the minister’s assistant private secretary (APS),a general manager (GM) of Bangladesh railway and another railway official.
The senior minister said at a press conference that he was ready to quit if graft allegations were proved valid.
“I will not make delay even for a moment (to resign) if the situation goes to that direction… I will take the decision instantly,” Sengupta told a crowded impromptu press conference last night at his office.
Sengupta said he had no link to the seized amount and feared an organised gang was deliberately orchestrating a campaign to dislodge him as he spearheads a campaign to uproot “40 years of accumulated anomalies and corruption in the railway”.
“The APS and the GM might have done the misdeed as part of the orchestrated campaign… but the investigations will unearth everything,” the minister said.
According to reports,Sengupta’s official aide and the railway general manager along with a railway security official were going to the minister’s residence at around midnight Monday when the driver of their car suddenly pulled the vehicle over to the high security Pilkhana headquarters of paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).
The driver shouted at sentries,saying the officials were carrying bags of illegal money prompting the border guards’ to detain them overnight for quizzing.
The incident made newspaper headlines next day sparking widespread criticism and speculation,though the officials and the driver were released next morning.
Sengupta immediately ordered suspension of his assistant private secretary and sent the general manager on a forced leave. Both later told newsmen they were going to Sengupta’s residence for discussions on an “official matter”.
The minister,however,told newsmen that no visitor could see him at around midnight as he usually goes to bed at 10 pm.
The railway ministry,meanwhile,launched investigations into the controversy through two committees’.
The independent Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said it too would launch a probe into the minister’s alleged involvement in the incident and allegations of corruption in recruitment in railways.
“The three-member committee headed by Deputy Director Mohammad Abu Sayeed has been asked to investigate the entire recruitment process and the source of the money that was seized on Monday,” ACC chairman Ghulam Rahman told newsmen last night.
“I will extend my all out cooperation to the agencies which would carry out the investigations,” Sengupta said.
But the allegations against Sengupta took a new turn overnight as a newspaper reported Sengupta’s son Soumen Sengupta,an executive of a private ICT firm,was awarded a Taka 5-crore telecommunication gateway licence yesterday,just two days after the scandal.
The Daily Star reported Soumen Sengupta withdrew around Taka 50,000 a month in salaries from Agni Systems while according to the minister’s wealth statement submitted to the Election Commission before the 2008 election,his annual income amounted to Taka 7 lakh,whose sources were house rent,fisheries and farm land.
Officials said setting up a telecommunication company requires an investment of Tk 30 crore at least.
Sengupta,who has been elected to the parliament seven times since Bangladesh’s 1971 independence,became railway minister in December last year until when he was the chief of the parliamentary standing committee on law,justice and parliamentary affairs ministry.