Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday said her government launched a massive anti-graft campaign ignoring the suspected culprits’ background and urged people to wait to see their fate.
She also trashed the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s suspicions that the campaign was “eyewash”.
“It makes no difference whether one is close to us or not, whoever is found corrupt is being caught,” the prime minister told a press conference at her Ganabhaban official residence in the capital as asked for comments on the BNP allegations.
She added: “Let’s wait and see whether it is eyewash or not.”
The prime minister said it was rather the BNP that knew the business of “eyewash” well as they adopted “corruption” as part of their policy.
The prime minister called the press conference this afternoon to brief the media about her recent Azerbaijan visit to join the Non-Align Movement (NAM) Summit.
She said actions were underway against the corrupt elements linked to her own Awami League the way BNP chief Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman were exposed to justice.
The prime minister said the drive would continue while several BNP leaders awaited punitive actions on charges of crimes like unbridled corruption, arson attacks, murders and money laundering.
“All of them will be exposed to justice in phases … there is no doubt about it, but we’ll have to wait for that for some time,” she said.
The prime minister alleged that it was BNP’s founder Ziaur Rahman who initiated the culture of money laundering and loan defaults in the country alongside derailing the country’s meritorious students by giving them firearms to stage showdowns on campus.
“Ershad went one step ahead (regarding corrupt practices) while his successor Khaleda Zia launched a shop like ‘Hawa Bhaban’ and started taking bribe in the name of development … but, no such thing happened after we assumed office,” she said.
Asked if she feared any backlash for the anti-corruption drive, the prime minister said she was not fearful.
“I would not have started drive against corruption if I was afraid of it… I’m not a person to be sacred of anything,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said her political background and commitment prompted her to launch the campaign pointing out that she was born and brought up in a political family and was involved in politics from her early life.
She said whenever the law enforcement agencies carried out the drives, they did not consider the political backgrounds or affiliations of their suspects.
“I have already said, I should start from my own yard, otherwise you’ll say that it’s is a politically-motivated campaign to harm someone,” said Sheikh Hasina, also the president of ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL).
The prime minister, however, called the BNP “a mine of corruption” as “they emerged in politics through corrupt means after the assassination of the father of the nation in 1975.”
She said military dictator Ziaur Rahman and his party (the BNP) initiated the culture of killings, coups and corruption and wondered “how dare they could utter words over graft when their chairperson and her sons were convicted for corruption and their chairperson herself embezzled the fund meant for orphans”.
Asked if the corrupt elements beyond the political arena too would be exposed to justice, she said that these elements were not being held on any criteria as whenever any specific allegation was found against anyone, the accused were being arrested.
“A criminal is a criminal no matter he or she belongs to any party. Whoever will commit any crime, will be detained,” she said.
When her attention was drawn to a media report over the possible ban by International Cricket Council (ICC) on Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, the prime minister said the BCB would remain beside Shakib and extend all possible cooperation to him.
“The bookies usually communicate with the cricketers. But, he (Shakib) didn’t pay much importance when the bookie contacted him, even he didn’t inform the ICC of it. He should have informed ICC instantly and he committed a mistake. In that case, if ICC takes any step, then there is nothing much we could do,” she added.
Sheikh Hasina, however, said since Shakib is a country’s son and made a place in the global cricket arena through his mettle, the BCB would stand beside him.
Answering another question on the recent strike of the cricketers, Sheikh Hasina said that ‘chapter’ has already been closed and that problem does not exist now.
“There are very few countries that support their players the way we do,” she said adding that the cricketers could have informed the BCB of their demands before enforcing the strike so suddenly.
Turning to the arrest of a BCB director over his involvement in casino operations, the prime minister said such involvement might have been found among the journalists also.
She also raised question why any media did not publish or run a report on casino business in the country although there are many newspapers and TV channels in the country.
“I took up the responsibility and found out the operations of casino in the country and directed the law enforcement agencies to conduct drive,” she said.
The prime minister also renewed her vow that she wants to run the country peacefully to change the fate of the people and thus improve the living standard of people.
Kolkata Test match
Replying to a query, the prime minister said she is going to join the inaugural function of the second Test cricket match between Bangladesh and India in Kolkata following an invitation of newly-elected BCCI president Sourav Ganguly.
“Sourav Ganguly is a Bangalee son … after being elected as the president of the Board of Control for Cricket India (BCCI), he wanted to talk with me. And when I talked to him, he requested me to join the inaugural function of the Test and I accepted it,” she said.
Urging the journalists not to blend the cricket with river issue, the prime minister said, “I’m going to watch a cricket match at the invitation of a Bangalee. It is not an invitation from the Indian prime minister or a chief minister,” she said.
Asked whether there will be any “cricket diplomacy” over the Teesta water issue, Sheikh Hasina said she will return home on the same day just after attending the opening ceremony. “Why are you taking cricket to the river?” she cut a joke.
Reaction to Menon’s comments
The prime minister said Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon, being a local MP, was earlier made the chief of a local sporting club in the capital where operations of a casino were found.
She said although Menon hurled comments over the last general elections at a function in Barishal, the fact was that he was also elected in that polls and for which his victory could have become questioned.
Sheikh Hasina said had not the people voted AL to power again, the BNP could have waged a movement. “But, they (BNP) could not do anything,” she said.
She asserted that the AL assumed office time and again to run the country peacefully and properly not to realise commission through opening up ‘Hawa Bhaban’.
The prime minister said Nusrat was a “very brave” girl as she had protested and could give her testimony before her death which was considered as an important evidence for the trial of her killers.
She also praised highly the role of media as they could build a strong public consensus over giving exemplary punishment to the killers of Nusrat and thus doing justice to her family members.
Citing the trial of Nusrat murder case an “example” before the nation, Sheikh Hasina said steps would be taken so such cases are disposed of in a speedily.
Terming the persistence of onion price hike as temporary, the prime minister said there is nothing to be worried about as 50,000 tonnes of onion would arrive in the country soon of which 10,000 tonnes will arrive within a few days.
She also cautioned that those who are trying to push the government to an uncomfortable position through hoarding onion would not gain much as onion is a perishable item and for which they would fall into trouble.
Padma Bridge issue
Replying to a question, the prime minister said it is not possible to give a specific timeframe as to when the work of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project would complete or it would be completed next year that coincides with the birth centenary celebration of father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
She mentioned that the work of the Padma Bridge is a “highly technical” issue and bridges on rivers with strong current, like the Padma, are yet to be built on rivers even in Amazon.
Extradition of Bangabandhu killers
Sheikh Hasina said efforts are underway to bring back the remaining killers of Bangabandhu adding that she had handed over a letter to the US president Donald Trump about the extradition of killer Rashed Chowdhury, who is hiding in the USA.
Initiatives were also taken to bring back another killer Noor Chowdhury from Canada, she added.
“But, the problem is that there is no provision of death sentence in many countries of the world and the killers are taking the advantage,” she said.
The prime minister hoped that the government would be able to bring back the rest of the killers the way it brought back Bazlul Huda from Thailand and Mohiuddin from the USA and executed them.