Smugglers of zero line

The Daily Star December 25, 2019

Smugglers of zero line

How smuggled bikes from India flood B’baria, nearby dists

It’s a house right on the zero line.

Transnational syndicates have turned its kitchen into a storeroom of smuggled motorcycles. They also use it for assembling bikes, bringing in parts like tanks, wheels, headlights and seats from across the border.

A section of unscrupulous police officials and even some Border Guard Bangladesh men allegedly have links to the syndicates.

The Daily Star came to know about the house during an independent investigation into trafficking through Kasba border in Brahmanbaria.

On October 9, these correspondents, aided by a local police informant, travelled around 54km by road and rail from Brahmanbaria town to Kollapathar area in Kasba upazila. Then it was one-km walk to the border.

Around 10:30am, the informant called a person named Md Momen Miah, living in one of the houses built on the zero line, almost touching the Indian fence.

Momen, who was using a Bangladeshi SIM, was told that two customers have come to buy a bike.

Getting a positive signal, the source then took these correspondents near the house after ten minutes’ walk along a trail through dense bushes. There were no border guards around.

Talking about the illegal trade to The Daily Star near the zero line, Momen said he had a brand new TVS Apache RTR bike in his kitchen and it costs Tk 1.20 lakh though its authorised price in Bangladesh is Tk 1.60 lakh.

As these correspondents showed an interest to buy it, he asked them to meet his aide Monir, who was also known to the police informant.

Talking to this paper in Kasba Bazar, Monir said they have to pay border guards on both sides around Tk 2,000 to Tk 5,000 for every bike. “Police officials also get almost the same amount.”

A wooden slope is set up on the border fence to push a bike onto Bangladesh side after the border is found secure.

“We used to smuggle around eight to 10 bikes almost daily but the situation is tougher now after police arrested six of our members,” he said.

This newspaper talked to some other sources, including syndicate members, and some locals who bought smuggled bikes, to get an insight into the illegal trade.

If any customer wants to get a licence number and registration, the smugglers handover the bike to another group working in Cumilla and Chunarughat in Habiganj, close to Brahmanbaria border.

This group removes the chassis number and replaces it with the number of an officially imported bike that was sold from an authorised shop. For this, they collect sale reports from showrooms.

For the entire process regarding the so-called licence and registration, the smugglers take additional Tk five to seven thousand. The customers would get some forged papers alongside a number.

On Indian side, the syndicates sometimes register a bike using a local’s ID card — known as Aadhar. Then a complaint is filed with a police station claiming that the bike was stolen, said a Bangladeshi youth, who is linked with the syndicate.

“They file the complaint so that they can get their bike back if it is seized by border guards, claiming it to be a lost property,” he said, requesting not to be named.

The Daily Star could not independently verify this claim.

Lt Col Iqbal Hossain, commanding officer of BGB-60 Battalion, told The Daily Star that most of the motorbikes that run in the district are smuggled from India.

As the documents are not checked properly, there is an increasing tendency among youths to buy smuggled bikes, he observed.

“We often got information about the smuggled motorbikes but the smugglers kept those in the houses built on zero line. We have no authorisation to conduct drives there,” said the commanding officer.

“We often express our concerns to our counterparts at flag meetings.”

Sources working for law enforcement agencies say the syndicates mainly use Hakor, Badla, Madla and Bayek border points to smuggle in the bikes.

According to sources working for law enforcement agencies, one of the rackets is run by Wasim Miah of Ganganagar village and Hosen Miah of Ramchandrapur village in Cumilla.  Shipon Miah of Gourangona area in Kasba is working closely with the duo.

Some other syndicate members in Brahmanbaria are Jahir Miah of Gopinathpur village, Billal Member of Dhojanagar, Rubel Mastar and Sadek Sarder of Nayanpur Bazar and Kamal Mia of Madla village.

Apart from police sources, local political leaders confirmed these names but none of the alleged smugglers were available for comments.

Md Lukman Hossain, officer-in-charge of Kasba Police Station, said they were trying their best to identify the syndicate members. “We also warned police officials to work sincerely as stern action will be taken if anyone of them is found guilty.”

Replying to a query, Lt Col Iqbal refused the allegation of BGB men being involved in smuggling. He said they always remain active and conduct drives whenever they found information.

THE ARREST

According to police, six people, including four Indian nationals, were arrested on May 11 after they entered Bangladesh for a bike consignment.

The arrestees were identified as Amzad Hossain Shawon, 22, and Hasibul Hasan Anik, 19, of Bangladesh, and Sanjit Devnath, 23, Nirmolendu Chowdhury, 32, Sankar Sarkar, 31, and Bimol Das, 33, of India.

Police also recovered one pistol, two pipe guns, six magazines, two walkie-talkies with a charger, one reflective vest, three pairs of leg guards and one pair of hand gloves from them.

Abdul Karim, the then assistant superintendent of police (ASP) of Kasba circle, said the gang used walkie-talkies as mobile network didn’t always work properly at the border.

ASP Karim, who got transferred to Khulna on October 27, in a statement had said Shawon was a professional smuggler accused in two cases including one for murder. The Indian nationals were also professional smugglers.

But, claimed a local source close to law enforcers, police submitted the charge sheet in a hurry on July 26, without explaining these details to save other syndicate members in Bangladesh.

ASP Karim refuted the claim. He told The Daily Star on October 10 that police did not find any other people’s involvement, so they submitted the charge sheet against only the six. “We needed to submit the charge sheet within 60 working days as required by the law.”

Sources said police arrested the six following a lead they got while investigating a murder that took place on Kasba border on February 26.

Mazharul Islam Tanim, 30, was killed because of internal feud of a smuggling racket, said Sub-Inspector Md Faruk, the investigation officer of the case.

“We have found involvement of nine people behind the killing and three are already in custody,” he said.

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