Biden administration is using US intelligence agencies as well as various ‘contacts’ in a number of countries in collecting information on properties, businesses and bank deposits of Bangladeshi nationals who had made such fortune through corruption and money laundering. According to credible sources, the United States is not only collecting details of properties, business establishments and bank deposits of Bangladeshi nationals in the US, it also is gathering similar information from Australia, Canada, Britain, EU nations, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Caribbean island nations. It may be mentioned here that, hundreds of Bangladeshi nationals have purchased citizenship in a number of Caribbean nations, including Dominica.
Earlier, in December last year, the United States imposed sanctions on the Inspector General of Police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and few other officers of this elite force. Action against RAB came weeks after Washington emphasized a deepening partnership with Dhaka.
The US Treasury Department announced sanctions on an elite Bangladesh paramilitary force, citing “serious human rights abuses”. It also sanctioned the current director of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and five formers senior RAB officials, including a travel ban on Benazir Ahmed, now Bangladesh’s top police chief. The United States also issued sanctions on entities and individuals in China, Myanmar, and North Korea.
The new sanctions came on International Human Rights Day, and it marks the first time Washington ever sanctioned Dhaka, which it has described as a key partner. Some Bangladeshi officials have downplayed the impact of the sanctions, but others have slammed them.
According to a Washington-based source, Bangladeshi rights group Odhikar along with several other ‘contacts’ have played key role in providing information about “extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances” on Rapid Action Battalion. The United States has earlier emphasized partnership with Bangladesh suggesting a willingness to overlook its “human rights records”. A 2019 US State Department document identified areas of potential cooperation with Bangladesh – from counterterrorism to trade.
Commenting on the sudden sanctions on Bangladesh, a source within the US Capitol told this correspondent, Biden administration has decided to make Bangladesh a prominent target of its democracy promotion campaign, suggesting the US sees Bangladesh as lacking sufficient strategic value to warrant a close partnership.
It said, the US sanctions could also be a shot across the bow to warn Bangladesh about risks of its growing relationship with China. But that is also unlikely given that sanctioning Dhaka could drive it closer to Beijing. The sudden sanction and any future sanctions on Bangladesh would only result in Chinese key policymakers extended willingness to support Bangladesh with funding and technology. This would turn Bangladesh into the most important ally of China.
Although a State Department spokesperson insisted the United States still seeks cooperation and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken making phone call with his Bangladeshi counterpart, the damage actually has already been done, as for Bangladesh, sanctioning the RAB amounts to an attack on an institution that has carried our successful counterterrorism and counter-narcotics operations.
While some pundits are suggesting disbanding Rapid Action Battalion, analysts in the US said, such actions would only encourage Washington in targeting other institutions and individuals and even make naked attempts of intervening in 2023 general elections in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, according to Washington-insiders, at least four influential lobbyist firms, which were hired by Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, are already working against the Awami League government. These firms are paid at least US$ 6 million each year.
The source said, in addition to frantic bids of the lobbyist firms, Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammed Yunus has been using the influence of Bill and Hillary Clinton as well as Barack Obama in convincing Joe Biden and his administration in holding the 2023 general elections in Bangladesh under direct supervision of the US. This nexus of lobbyists and Yunus also are providing information on wealth, business and bank accounts of a large number of Bangladeshi civil-military bureaucrats, businessmen and politicians to the US authorities. Editor of a leading English-language daily in Dhaka is playing the role of secret coordinator in gathering such information from various sources. This editor is also maintaining correspondence with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Qatar-based Al Jazeera broadcast network and providing information on “corrupt Bangladeshi individuals”.