The CID on Sunday arrested the alleged godfather of a human trafficking ring that ran boats to carry people from Bangladesh to Malaysia.
Mohammad Asem, also a business teacher at Tejgaon College, and his cohorts raked in about Tk 25 crore, which is evident in their financial transactions, said Molla Nazrul Islam, special superintendent of Organised Crime Division of Criminal Investigation Department.
He was arrested at the capital’s Karwan Bazar.
“We believe the syndicate trafficked hundreds of people to Malaysia. They have probably raked in a lot more … up to Tk 100 crore. We are investigating into it,” the officer told a press conference at the CID headquarters yesterday.
People trafficking in the region dominated global headlines for days after mass graves of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis were discovered in southern Thailand and northern Malaysia in mid-2015.
Asem’s father Anowar Hossain and elder brother Mohammad Khobaid, who have been living in Malaysia for many years, are also involved in trafficking, the CID officer said.
Others suspected of being connected to the syndicate include Asem’s younger brother Javed Mostafa, mother Khadiza and cohorts Arif, Ekram, Osman Sawar and Arifuzzaman Akand, he said.
“We went to Asem’s home in Maulavipara [in Teknaf], but found no one,” he said.
“Mohammad Asem seems to be the kingpin of the human trafficking syndicate.”
Asem was granted bail by Metropolitan Magistrate Subrata Ghosh Shubha after police produced him before the court yesterday.
Between May 1 and the end of July, 2015, Thai authorities exhumed 36 bodies from mass graves – apparently of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis — in the southern region while 139 mass graves were found in Malaysia.
UN Refugee Agency said 8,000 people were estimated to have been stranded at sea in May 2015 before Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia decided to accept them.
It said some 84,000 people boarded boats from the coasts of Bangladesh and Myanmar between January 2014 and March 2015.
In mid-2015, it was estimated that over 1,100 people died in the seas since 2014.
Police came to know about him after the father of a trafficking victim in March 2016 filed a case with Ullapara Police Station in Sirajganj.
Abdus Salam filed the case under Human Trafficking Prevention and Suppression Act 2012.
He complained that people traffickers sent his son Masud to Malaysia in 2014, held him hostage and demanded Tk 3.10 lakh in ransom, Nazrul told reporters.
Salam was asked to pay the money to a bank account in Dhaka.
Salam mentioned in the case that he paid the money but Masud was not freed, the officer said.
“As the case was referred to the CID, we investigated and found Asem and his syndicate’s involvement.”
Eventually, CID Inspector Abdur Razzaq filed a case with Banani Police Station on May 2 last year under the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2012 which led to Asem’s arrest on Sunday.
A CID official said Asem was first arrested on August 14 and produced before a Dhaka court.
The court placed him on a three-day remand. On a later date, the court granted him bail, rejecting CID’s prayer for a further 10-day remand.
The CID again arrested him on Sunday in another case filed in 2015 with Bajitpur Police Station in Kishoreganj under the human trafficking prevention act.
Nazrul said Asem became involved in trafficking in 2010 through his brother Khobaid and father Anwar.
Asem and his younger brother Javed recruited brokers in various parts of the country.
They wooed fortune seekers and put them on board rickety boats. Once they arrived in the Thai jungles, the racketeers held them hostage in camps and forced them to call their families asking for ransom.
“People were even tortured and killed if their families at home failed to pay the ransom.
Asem and his family members had bank accounts in Dhaka, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf.
His father Anwar, a Rohingya, came from Myanmar’s Rakhine in the 1960s and started living in Maulavipara, reports our correspondent in Cox’s Bazar.
He went to Malaysia in the 1990s, locals said.
Asem’s brother Javed has a clothes shop in Teknaf, which is actually used as a front, locals said.