By Sumi Khan
Dhaka, July 2 (IANS) A Kuwaiti major general, working in the Interior Ministry, has been suspended in connection with his alleged link with human trafficking and visa trading business of Bangladesh lawmaker M. Shahidul Islam Papul in the Gulf kingdom, as per reports.
The lawmaker, who was charged with money laundering and human trafficking, is in jail there, the Arab Times has reported.
Kuwait’s Deputy Chief Minister and Interior Minister, Anas Al Saleh issued a decree suspending Maj Gen Mazen Al Jarrah, who was an Assistant Under Secretary in the ministry.
Papul, an Independent lawmaker, had named the army officer as one of the officials who took bribes from his company to allow his visa trading.
Al Saleh told the parliament that no one found guilty in illegal visa trading will be spared. He also said that Kuwait is planning to heighten the level of punishment for human trafficking and visa trading.
Earlier, five Bangladeshi expatriates testified against Islam before a Kuwait court, claiming to have paid him upto 3,000 dinars to be sent to Kuwait.
“The prosecution heard testimonies of the expatriates, who also paid annually in exchange of renewing their residency,” the Arab Times reported.
On June 6, Kuwait’s CID arrested Papul on the charges of human trafficking, visa fraud and money laundering. Bangladesh’s criminal investigation agency found evidence of human trafficking and smuggling of about 53 million Kuwaiti dinars (about 1,400 crore Bangladeshi takas).
A court denied Papul’s bail plea and sent him to jail.
Other media reports said over the past two months, a number of government agencies have extended more than four government contracts of Papul’s companies, triggering another scam.
The contracts were completed years ago, but some of them ended over the past two months, and were extended, in view of the authorities’ needs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The total value of the four contracts is one million Kuwait dinars ($3.25 million), and most of them are related to workers employed as cleaners.
One of the government agencies, which manage vital facilities, sent a letter earlier this month to the central agency for public tenders to extend the contract with a Bangladeshi lawmaker, starting from July 1 to January 19, 2021, but the agency postponed the process, as per the Gulf News.
There is another government agency with religious activity that had recently assigned additional duties to a company of Papul, managing the cleaning of facilities for only one governorate in the original contract, but another governorate was added to his work, which raised the value of the contract to 720,000 dinars, and it was also extended until the end of November 2020.
Papul is Managing Director and CEO Marafie Kuwaitia Group and has five million dinars in assets in Kuwait.
Sources said that he has four companies in Kuwait, working in general trade, contracting and cleaning of streets and buildings.
Meanwhile, two Kuwaiti lawmakers have been indicted, while three others are likely to be charged in connection with the case.
This comes against the backdrop of the prosecution’s demands to toughen penalties for certain offences currently classified as misdemeanours and attracting just a small fine.
Kuwait’s Attorney General has decided to keep Papul in jail, and the public prosecutor ordered continuing the imprisonment of the remaining accused but released the owner of a company on bail of 2,000 dinars.
The prosecution approached the Central Bank of Kuwait to freeze the bank accounts of Papul and his company, whose financial balance amounts to about 5 million dinars, including 3 million dinars capital.
Apart from the bribes to be sent to Kuwait, workers also paid huge sums to the company for renewing their residency every year.
In response to a complaint filed in February, Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission opened an enquiry into the allegation that Papul amassed 1,400 crore takas by trafficking people to Kuwait and laundered the money to different countries.
It was then only that Kuwaiti media reported that three Bangladeshis were operating a human trafficking racket in the country and that one of them was a “member of parliament in Bangladesh”.
According to the report, the trio “occupied sensitive positions” in three major companies that sent over 20,000 Bangladeshi workers to Kuwait in exchange for an amount believed to be more than thousands of crores of takas.
Papul, who has pleaded not guilty, told the public prosecutor that some Kuwaiti officials were trying to hinder his work.
“No one can complain about the success of what I have done.
“But some Kuwaiti officials tried to block my work. I paid a bribe to stop them,” he claimed.
Noting that no other company has the kind of equipment his company has or has provided quality completed service, he said: “But the ‘problem’ is some Kuwaiti officials.”
However, the reports said that Papul has not only confessed to his crimes to Kuwait’s criminal investigation agency, but has also revealed the names of his associates in Kuwait and information about bribery.
Following the confession, the Kuwait government has also taken steps to confiscate about 138 crore takas from his bank accounts.