What started out as a drive against illegal gambling has now exposed a deep layer of decay lurking beneath the social veneer. The truth is we knew that gambling was going on in the city but perhaps the scale of it came as a shock.
From poker to baccarat to roulette – everything associated with big-time gambling was available. And the operations happened right in front of the law enforcers.
Former Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner, Asaduzzman Mia said that the failure to prevent such widespread gambling is the collective failure of society, and the police alone should not be blamed.
What he said is partially true though the police will have to shoulder part of the blame because it did almost nothing to stop gambling at sports clubs.
The explanation provided is that the police are often influenced by politics and, therefore the gambling continued undisturbed.
Bangla Tribune also ran a report in which a mid-level police official is quoted as saying: “It’s true that police could not carry out the drives due to political influence but if the police had received the authority from the highest level then they could have carried out the work which has now been done by RAB.”
Be that as it may, the recent casino busting has bolstered the RAB’s image and there’s no denying that the no-nonsense approach of the elite force has earned kudos from the public.
The RAB may be dressed differently but in the end, it’s also part of the police, so it would be wrong to differentiate among separate units of the same force when it comes to credit-sharing.
Law enforcers need to be non-partisan and focused:
Since the purging order has come from the top, police and RAB both need to take a dispassionate and methodical approach in rooting out social evils.
Casinos may be just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that exploiting the clout of the ruling party and its affiliates, several varieties of unethical operations have taken hold within the society. One is the manipulation of government tenders, which has been exposed after the arrest of one GK Shamim.
Reportedly, he is known as ‘Tender king’ controlling government work worth thousands of millions; ironically, his firm is also contracted to build the Tk. 5 billion RAB building.
Obviously, society would want to know if these contracts ever opened to fair competition or not.
If they were open to all then the question arises, who participated in the tender process and why is it that almost all major government work went to one firm?
This opens up another dimension of venality, away from gambling and casinos.
There is a common belief out among people that government tenders cannot be won without political lobbying.
That means, there is no possibility of a transparent competition in getting work. For survival, all firms will either have to milk their political connections or perish.
An online casino mastermind called Salim Prodhan was arrested while he was skedaddling on a plane to Bangkok and his confessions opened up another murky world of spas, massage parlours and online gambling.
Reportedly, to carry out his business, Salim Prodhan entertained influential people in Thailand which ensured protection and non- interference.
Misusing stickers, moving in SUVs to project power:
As we talk of Salim Prodhan, a grave aberration of creating a false aura of power comes into the discussion. As per a Bangla Tribune report, the mastermind of the online casino, Salim Prodhan, used to go around in a car with the sticker of the national parliament. Three of his cars had stickers and investigation is underway to find how he came to secure them without being an MP. After being arrested, Salim Prodhan is now in prison.
Cars of Salim Prodhan also have hooters, used by influential people and law enforcers. Misusing VIP protocol, he used to move about in a motorcade.
In Dhaka city, there are quite a few vehicles that use national parliament stickers and many of these do not belong to MPs at all. The stickers are used with an intent to deceive and create a false perception. Traffic police usually do not question drivers of such cars and this special privilege is being abused by unscrupulous people.
In fact, unscrupulous is a mild term, the exact word should be ‘scums’ or ‘scoundrels’.
Also, a sense of invincibility associated with SUV’s is being exploited since large sports utility vehicles are seen as a sign of social power.
When someone moves in a motorcade of four to five such cars blowing hooters, the traffic police on the road feel too overawed to stop them.
This illegal ‘immunity’ enjoyed by the SUVs impacts the social subconscious, asserting its place as a material possession of those who cannot be touched.
The RAB claims that Salim Prodhan has huge amount of wealth in Thailand and was ejected from Japan for being involved in crime. He went to Japan in 1988 and got involved in car business.
Later, when he got involved in illegal trade, he was deported. From Japan, he came to Thailand where he began a shipyard trade. A money-laundering investigation against him began in 2015.
Reportedly, he has several wives in different countries. The RAB carried out a drive at his residence and office in Gulshan and Banani, recovering huge amounts of foreign currency, narcotics and cash.
Two deerskins were also found. The executive magistrate of wildlife protection of RAB handed him six months imprisonment for killing deer.
The busting of casinos has exposed quite a few social afflictions: misuse of political links, abuse of official stickers, tendency to create a perception of invincibility, venality and the collusion of people in authority.
The much talked about list of payment takers:
Soon after the arrests of the so-called gambling kingpins, it became clear that their operations were being conducted with the full knowledge of people in administration and media. It’s believed that names of police officers and members of the media who took payments from the gambling kings are being collected by RAB.
Already, a non-verified list is making the rounds on social media and there may be more such lists with doubtful authenticity. At such a stage, the RAB should officially carry out the investigation to find if the names given by the arrested, as people who received payment to keep quiet, is credible or not.
Since gambling was on all over the city, it’s safe to speculate that some people were aware of the goings-on and remained silent in exchange for incentives.
Once the names are revealed, a new, murky dimension of the casino busting will be exposed. This time, we may see masks fall off those who are seen strenuously advocating integrity and ethics in public.
The casino exposure has brought out the depravity that has taken a foothold in society and how this culture has seeped into the general psyche, often translating into a belief that where making money is concerned, all sorts of duplicity and immorality are permitted.
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.