Arrested for allegedly hacking into the Skype conversation of a war crimes tribunal judge, Mahmudur Rahman has traversed some distance from engineering to editing a newspaper.
Detractors say he has often engineered controversies, treading the fine line between journalism and partisan activism rather clumsily.
The controversy that forced Justice Nizamul Huq of the war crimes tribunal to resign has been compared, in tenor if not in scale, with Britain’s phone-hacking scandal involving the Rupert Murdoch-owned ‘News of the World’ that ultimately folded up 168 years after it was first printed.
Hailing from Comilla, Rahman, 60, graduated from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in 1977 and began his career in British Oxygen.
He later worked with state-run BCIC, Monno Ceramics and Beximco, ending up as a chief executive of one of its ventures.
During the 2001-2006 BNP-Jamaat regime, Mahmudur Rahman was appointed Chairman of the Board of Investment. At that time, he was involved in negotiations with India’s Tata Group which had shown interest in investing in several projects in Bangladesh.
Later, he was appointed Energy Advisor (State Minister) in 2005 by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia - who held the energy portfolio herself.
During the BNP-Jamaat regime, Mahmudur hit the headlines often with his controversial statements.
After staying abroad for a while, Mahmudur started his own company ‘Artisan Ceramics’ in 1999.
He is married to Firoza khan, daughter of erstwhile BNP minister Harunur Rashid Khan Monno.
On Nov 24, 2006, Mahmudur was closeted in a meeting with several top bureaucrats and police officials in the Uttara-based office of his company. When the media turned up to cover it, many officials fled the office, covering their faces.
Later media reports suggested that the meeting had been organised to strategise about how to bring the BNP-Jamaat coalition back to power. At that time, it generated much controversy.
In August that year, Mahmudur Rahman sued several functionaries of the leading think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) -- leading economist and CPD’s Executive Director Rehman Sobhan, Debapriya Bhattacharya, CPD’s trustee board member Manzur Elahi, M Saiduzzaman and Laila Rahman Kabir.
He accused them of maligning his family by blaming him for working against the cause of Bangladesh’s independence in 1971.
In 2008, he took over the management of the ‘Amar Desh’ which was facing a resource crunch. He has been managing the daily ever since.
Though Mahmudur has no background in journalism, he would often write commentaries on ‘Amar Desh’ front page that would often provoke controversies and raise questions about the daily’s professional standards.
Late last year, ‘Amar Desh’ was back in news big-time when it claimed to have scooped the alleged Skype conversation between war crimes tribunal judge Nizamul Huq and Belgium-based international law expert Ahmed Ziauddin.
War crimes tribunal prosecutor Shahinur Rahman filed a case of cyber crime in Tejgaon police station on Dec 14 last year. On Thursday, Mahmudur Rahman was arrested in connection with that case.
Secular groups have alleged that Mahmudur Rahman has been the driving force in the campaign against the Shahbagh’s Ganajagaran Mancha that seeks capital punishment for convicted war criminals. They allege he whipped up religious passions, portraying the Mancha as a ‘bunch of atheist bloggers’ and demanded his arrest.