Bangladesh Rejects Report on Army Chief, 3 Brothers, as ‘Smear Campaign’

John Bechtel
Washington
2021-02-02
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Bangladesh Rejects Report on Army Chief, 3 Brothers, as ‘Smear Campaign’ Bangladesh Army chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed (right) looks on during a program at a Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, Nov. 24, 2019.
AFP

Bangladesh authorities have rejected claims in an investigative report that its army chief is protecting his brothers who fled abroad after being convicted of murder, and that the country has purchased an Israeli-made cellphone monitoring system despite a trade ban with the Jewish state.

The Feb. 1 report by Qatari-based television network Al Jazeera alleged that army chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed kept close links with his two foreign-based brothers who are on the run from justice after being convicted of the 1996 murder of a rival political leader.

The Al Jazeera documentary also linked Aziz, who is currently on an official visit to the United States, to corrupt deals with at least one of his brothers, who the report said had been able to travel to Bangladesh to meet with the army chief despite being a fugitive.

Aziz is a close confidant of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who the report said had previously hired his two brothers Haris and Anis Ahmed as bodyguards when she was opposition leader. It also alleged that the Ahmed clan’s fortunes “have been long intertwined with that” of Hasina.

Both the Bangladesh foreign ministry and army dismissed the allegations contained in the one-hour Al Jazeera television documentary and accompanying stories.

The Bangladesh foreign ministry in a statement on Tuesday described the report as “false and defamatory” and “anti-Bangladesh propaganda.”

It however did not specifically address any of the charges leveled against Aziz Ahmed in the report.

“The report is nothing more than a misleading series of innuendos and insinuations in what is apparently a politically motivated ‘smear campaign’ by notorious individuals,” it said, linking them to the “extremist group” Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the largest Islamic parties in Bangladesh.

The Al Jazeera report said Haris Ahmed lives in Hungary under the alias of Mohammad Hasan, while he and Anis Ahmed own a home in Kuala Lumpur. Both fled Bangladesh following their murder conviction, while a third brother was found guilty of the same murder charge and served 20 years in prison before being pardoned by the country’s president.

Acryl Sani, Malaysia’s deputy inspector general of police, said authorities were investigating whether Anis Ahmed was in the country. Officials said they had not received any notification from the Bangladesh counterparts.

“We have to check it first whether the man is still in the country, if he is wanted by Interpol and so on,” Acryl told local reporters on Monday.

Al Jazeera said none of the Ahmed brothers – nor any of the Bangladesh officials mentioned in the report, including the prime minister, home minister, police-inspector general and police commissioner – responded to requests for comment in advance of the report’s release.

Surveillance equipment

The Bangladesh government also dismissed the Al Jazeera allegation that it had secretly purchased surveillance equipment manufactured by an Israeli company which, according to the report, listed Hungary as the country of origin.

Al Jazeera alleged that Bangladeshi officers were trained by Israeli experts to use the equipment that can monitor hundreds of mobile phones at one time.

The Al Jazeera investigation says that Haris Ahmed was a key figure in this deal.

But the Bangladesh Army rejected the claim, saying it was based on “false information.”

“The truth is the equipment was procured from Hungary for one of the army contingents due to be deployed in the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission,” said Rashadul Alam Khan, assistant director of the Inter Service Public Relations Directorate at the Ministry of Defense.

“Nowhere in the equipment was mentioned/written that these were of Israeli origin. There is no scope of defense co-operation/procurement from Israel since Bangladesh does not have any formal diplomatic relation with the country.”

The South Asian nation does not recognize Israel and it is forbidden for Bangladeshi nationals to travel to Israel or engage in commerce with Israelis.

US visit

U.S. authorities said they were aware of the allegations leveled at Aziz Ahmed, whose was visiting the United States from Jan. 30 to Feb. 12.

A Pentagon official said that Aziz Ahmed would be meeting with his American counterpart and other officials, but did not release details of the general’s itinerary in the U.S., citing security concerns.

“We are aware of the allegations in Al Jazeera. As part of our ongoing defense and security cooperation, we host visitors from partner-nation armies,” U.S. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Curtis Kellogg told BenarNews on Tuesday.

“The U.S. and Bangladesh armies share a close partnership, characterized by regular combined training exercises, education and training exchanges, and support to U.N. Peace Keeping Operations. Both of our countries share a commitment to ensuring peace and stability in the region.”

On Tuesday, the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request from BenarNews to interview the general or to respond to the allegations surrounding him in the Al Jazeera report.

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