UN Calls for Probe into Allegations against Bangladesh Army Chief

Imran Vittachi
Washington
2021-02-04
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UN Calls for Probe into Allegations against Bangladesh Army Chief U.N. Peacekeepers from Bangladesh attend a memorial ceremony at the MINUSMA base in Bamako, Mali for comrades who were killed by an explosive device, Sept. 27, 2017.
Reuters

The United Nations on Thursday called for an investigation into allegations made in a news documentary that linked Bangladesh’s army chief to corrupt deals, including the purported purchase of Israeli-made spying equipment.

Officials in Dhaka have rejected as “false and defamatory” the one-hour documentary by Al Jazeera since it was first aired on Monday. But they have not publically addressed specific allegations made against Gen. Aziz Ahmed and his brothers in the news report. 

“We are in fact aware of the reporting done by Al Jazeera Investigations concerning allegations of corruption against senior officials in Bangladesh, and the press release issued by the Ministry of Defense in Bangladesh,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, told reporters during a press briefing at the United Nations in New York.  

“The allegations of corruption is a serious matter that should be investigated by the relevant authorities,” Dujarric said.

He was responding to a question about the Al Jazeera report and a subsequent claim by military officials in Bangladesh that cellphone surveillance equipment described in the documentary was purchased for U.N. peacekeeping operations. 

Dujarric noted that Bangladesh is the world’s largest contributor of uniformed personnel to U.N. peacekeeping operations, and that every operation in which Dhaka participates is governed by an agreement laying out the world body’s specific requirements for it.

“The U.N. has not identified in any of these agreements a requirement for the capability provided by the operation of electronic equipment in the nature described by Al Jazeera in its documentary,” he added. “And such equipment has not been deployed with Bangladeshi contingents in U.N. peacekeeping operations.”

In his response, the spokesman for Secretary-General António Guterres did not refer to any of the “senior officials in Bangladesh” by name.

The U.N.’s call for an investigation came as Gen. Aziz was visiting the United States on an official trip, including a stop at the United Nations Headquarters.

The Bangladeshi army chief of staff departed on Jan. 29 for a visit scheduled to go until Feb. 12, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate at the Ministry of Defense said in a statement last week.

The general was due to meet with officials at the Pentagon in Washington as well as with United Nations officials in New York.

“His visit is expected to play an important role in increasing the number of Bangladeshi U.N. peacekeepers, conducting peacekeeping missions properly and ensuring the country’s participation at the policymaking level of the missions,” the ISPR had said.

The Feb. 1 investigative report by Qatar-based Al Jazeera alleged that Gen. Aziz maintained close links with his two foreign-based brothers who are fugitives from justice after being convicted of the 1996 murder of a rival political leader.

The Al Jazeera documentary linked the general 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.

It said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had previously hired Aziz’s brothers Haris and Anis Ahmed as bodyguards when she was opposition leader. It alleged that the Ahmed clan’s fortunes “have been long intertwined with that” of Hasina.

The report also claimed that the military had secretly purchased surveillance equipment manufactured by an Israeli company, even though Bangladesh does not recognize Israel and forbids nationals from traveling there or engaging in commerce with Israelis.

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 Bangladesh foreign ministry slammed the report as “a misleading series of innuendos and insinuations in what is apparently a politically motivated ‘smear campaign’ by notorious individuals.”

Separately, the Bangladesh Army rejected the spyware 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 ISPR.

“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.”

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