The Tk 74 lakh was going to the then railway minister Suranjit Sengupta’s house, Azam Khan, driver of the minister’s sacked APS Omar Faruq Talukder has said six months into the railwaygate scandal.
“The money was being carried to Suranjit Sengupta’s house. But, I foiled the attempt. Money was also brought earlier for several times,” he said.
Earlier on April 9, a railway ministry car pulled over at the main entrance to the Pilkhana BGB headquarters in the capital at around 11:30pm and its driver hollered that there were stashes of bribe money in the vehicle.
BGB personnel on guard at the gate searched the car and found the money.
They seized the money and detained the driver, Ali Azam, and three others who turned out to be railway minister’s then Assistant Personal Secretary (APS) Omar Faruq, Bangladesh Railway General Manager (East) Yusuf Ali Mridha and its Chief Commandant Enamul Huq.
Azam Khan said, “I had no link to the scam. Though later rumour spread involving me, but I did not have any ill motive,”.
“When I steered the car carrying money, they (Faruq, Mridha and Yousuf) wanted to know, where are you going?”
“I said I would expose the money. The bribe was collected over recruitment in the railways,” he said in the interview.
He went on saying, “Finding the BDR gate open, I drove the car inside. They did not give me any signal and so I did not stop. This car goes through this way several times a day. Perhaps they identified the car and that is why they did not pay attention.”
“Then Faruq said this is not right. You drove the car inside. Then they offered Tk 5 lakh and asked me to go away. Later, they offered me half of the amount and asked me to get them released. But I refused. Finally, they offered me the whole amount,” the driver told the private television channel.
“I said no as it was an illegal offer. The money was counted in the morning. Tk 74 lakh was counted. Then along with the money, they went away in the car driven by another person,” he said.
The driver said, “They want to put the blame on the government. The minister was involved in the scam. There was a syndicate. They intimidated me, saying that the government is involved in this.”
“But I know the honourable prime minister is against corruption. Let’s no corrupt go unpunished. I appeal to the prime minister for my safety.”
Former Railway Minister Suranjit Sengupta had struck a Tk 100 million deal with former Railway General Manager Yusuf Ali Mridha for appointing 600 people on his recommendation, claims Azam Khan, the driver of Suranjit’s Assistant Personal Secretary.
Khan had been missing since Suranjit’s APS Omar Faruque Talukder, GM Mridha and Railway Police Commandant Enamul Hoque were caught with Tk 7.4 million on them near the Border Guard Bangladesh headquarters at Peelkhana on Apr 9. He drove the car carrying the money straight to the BGB premises.
The incident led to Suranjit’s resignation from the ministry on Apr 16. However, he was reinstated as a Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet later.
The driver’s going missing since the incident gave rise to speculation about him becoming a victim of ‘forced disappearance’ to cover up the scandal that brought the government harsh criticism, mainly from the opposition.
Newspapers reported aspirants bribed the minister for appointment in his ministry.
Five months had passed since the disappearance of the driver when Khan suddenly appeared on private TV station Rtv on Thursday night narrating the sequence of events in an interview from an undisclosed location, which appeared to be a vast crop field.
Suranjit considered the sudden appearance of the driver ‘a part of a conspiracy’ to cover up recent financial scams, including the Hallmark loan scam.
“These lies are a part of a conspiracy. How did the man believed to have been kidnapped or disappeared or missing since the incident occurred six months back appear all of a sudden and from where?” Sutanjit said through his Personal Secretary Kamrul Hoque.
Hoque said Suranjit will give his reaction in a press conference on Oct 10 as he is currently visiting his constituency.
“As far I know, Suranjit had the contract with the railway GM through his APS Faruque. In the car, they discussed about Suranjit Sengupta receiving Tk 10 crore (Tk 100 million) for appointing 600 men recommended by the General Manager,” Khan said in the interview.
He claimed he was offered the entire money his employer Faruque was carrying in a briefcase that night.
According to Khan, after refusing the offer, he drove the car into the BGB headquarters gate on way to the minister’s residence.
“We left with the money in the APS Faruque’s car from House No. 5 on Road No. 3 of Dhanmondi. On way to Jigatala, I drove the car through Entrance No. 4 to the BGB (headquarters),” Khan said.
As the car entered the BGB gate, Faruque and others asked him where he was going, Azam said narrating the incident.
“Then I said, this money is born out of corruption, for railways appointment … I will have all of you arrested,” Khan said.
He said the guard on duty at the entrance did not stop the car.
“At this stage, they made the offer (of bribe),” he claimed.
He said first they offered him Tk 0.5 million to drive them out of the BGB office, and then offered half the money before finally offering the entire sum they had with them.
The money was not counted until at 10am the next morning, when Faruque, Enamul and Mridha got another driver from outside, who drove them out of the BGB headquarters.
According to Faruque, Maj Shafiur Rahman had handed him a cheque of Tk 3 crore (Tk 30 million) for appointing several hundred people in the railways.
“Money was taken (to the minister’s house) several times earlier,” Khan added.
He claimed he did not have any demand like getting his people appointed.
He said he used to carry money in his car from the residence of a man named Nipen, and he talked about some sub-registrars, whose names he could not recollect, who could throw more light on the scandal.
Inside the BGB headquarters, after they were caught with the money, Suranjit’s APS and others said it was government’s money, he said.
“I knew the Prime Minister is against corruption … I want no corrupt is spared in the country,” he added.
Khan said that he no more wanted to remain a fugitive and also wanted to assist the government in probe.