Hardened politicians will say there is no such thing as embarrassing in high politics.
That may be true in most cases, but when it turns out a member of the religious affairs subcommittee of the ruling party was moonlighting as a moonshiner, red-faced colleagues may have very little to defend.
Top and mid-ranking leaders of the ruling Awami League are facing such a dilemma at the moment.
Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB, confiscated a large consignment of foreign liquors disguised as threads and machinery in Narayanganj’s Sonargaon en route from the Chattogram Port.
The law-enforcing agency found as many as 36,816 bottles and said the primary buyers of these illegal liquors were some hotels, pubs and clubs in Dhaka.
AL leader Azizul Islam and his two sons were identified as the prime suspects in these illegal imports.
Azizul and his elder son Mizanur Rahman Ashik had managed to escape arrest by fleeing to Dubai, allegedly a strong base for the liquor smuggling network, on Saturday morning. The unlucky younger son, Abdul Ahad was arrested in the Shahjalal International Airport area the following morning.
The ring was responsible for three more consignments of illegal liquor imports containing almost 48,000 bottles this year, RAB added.
Azizul is the incumbent chairman of Shologhar Union Parishad in Munshiganj’s Sreenagar Upazila and an adviser to Sreenagar’s Awami League unit. He is a member of the Awami League central committee’s religious affairs subcommittee. He has lately been vying for the position of the general secretary of the Sreenagar unit of the ruling party.
Like many corrupt politicians, he also went from rags to riches in a short time.
According to local ruling party leaders, Azizul’s main trade was selling and setting rickshaw parts even a decade ago and had no connection with Awami League politics.
Somehow along the way, he managed to sneak into the good books of Sukumar Ranjan Ghosh, a parliament member from the Munshiganj-1 constituency.
From that point on, he never had to look back.
Very quickly, he was nominated for standing in the Sholaghar Union Parishad elections for chairman and with the party’s full endorsement, he was elected.
Lately, the way he and his sons carried themselves, it was apparent that they found some means of making quick and serious money, locals said.
Local party unit leaders said he had hurriedly left an extended meeting of the unit on Saturday afternoon upon getting a call.
No one had any clue about what's been going on.
“I had good political and professional relations with him. I wasn’t close to him on a personal level. This liquor smuggling business is so embarrassing,” gasped Shologhar Awami League President Mahabubur Rahman.
Some of the local party leaders, who declined to reveal their names in fear of retaliation, said Azizul spent massively “to buy himself” a seat at a central sub-committee of the Awami League.
RAB says Azizul owns a house with a large estate, agricultural land, and a warehouse in Shologhar. He also owns a 12-storey apartment building in Dhaka’s Wari. He also has some fixed assets in Wari and Bangshal, including another warehouse.
RAB alleges that Azizul and his sons have deep ties in Dubai, as they suspect the smuggling ring is operated from the Gulf city-state.
AZIZUL’S POLITICAL FUTURE HANGS IN THE BALANCE?
The party has yet to announce any punitive action against Azizul.
Munshiganj District Awami League President Mohiuddin Ahmed declined comment on the matter when bdnews24.com reached out to him on Monday evening.
But the party’s Central Religious Affairs Sub-Committee Chairman Khandakar Golam Maula Nakshbandi said the party was not going to take this matter lightly.
“We'll take the allegations seriously. If those turn out to be true, we'll recommend his dismissal from the party,” he said.
However, Golam Maula also said Azizul could well be a “victim” of an elaborate conspiracy.
“He was elected chairman multiple times. has many political enemies in the area. Some of them called me and complained a lot [against him]. I told them that if convicted, he [Azizul] will be expelled from the committee."
Awami League’s Religious Affairs Secretary Sirajul Mostofa, however, expressed his disappointment at how Azizul’s actions “tarnished the party's image among the electorates”.
Sirajul also accused Golam Maula of keeping some “corrupt” members like Azizul under his wing to advance his political ambitions. Golam Maula denied the accusation and accused Sirajul of the same.
With additional reporting from our correspondent in Munshiganj; writing in English by Adil Mahmood and editing by Biswadip Das.