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ED swoop in Bengal leads to arrest of six Bangladeshi fugitives with fake Indian identities


NEW DELHI: Six Bangladeshi nationals, including a former top banker from Dhaka, who had earlier embezzled crores of money in their country and had settled near Kolkata after assuming Indian identities, were on May 15 arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a “quiet operation” from Ashoknagar in North 24 Parganas district.

All the six Bangladeshi nationals had successfully managed to obtain Indian citizenship less than three years after disappearing from Dhaka. The ED’s operation was conducted following an official investigation request by the Sheikh Hasina government.

Another Bangladeshi national, identified as Sukumar Mridha, who acted as an Income Tax lawyer and adviser for the banker, was earlier picked up by the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit and the Anti-Corruption Commission in Dhaka.

The detection of the six foreign nationals and their arrest in a late night swoop at no less than nine locations in Kolkata and Ashoknagar and Katwa, in adjoining North 24 Parganas and Burdwan districts, punches holes in the Narendra Modi government’s supposedly strong stand against illegal immigration and exposes weak passport security control. The arrests also expose lax police and intelligence functioning in West Bengal under the ruling Trinamool Congress.

According to ED sources in Kolkata and security sources in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi banker, identified as Prasanta Kumar Haldar, a former NRB Global Bank managing director, disappeared from the neighbouring country’s capital in 2019 after facing charges of embezzlement and money laundering to the tune of 2,500 crore taka which is nearly equivalent to the rupee in exchange value. Prasanta Kumar Haldar assumed a fictitious identity in the name of Shibshankar Haldar.

Among the other five Bangladeshis, some of whom lived in different parts of West Bengal under assumed Indian names, are Prithwish Kumar Haldar and Pranesh Kumar Haldar, younger brothers of the former banker. While the five Bangladeshi men were remanded to ED custody till May 17 (since extended till May 24) the woman accomplice, who too changed her identity, is now in judicial custody.

Details of the investigation by the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) – now available with The New Indian Express – show that Shibshankar Haldar crossed over to West Bengal at the Benapole border on October 23, 2019. At some point in time, he shifted base to Canada but returned to West Bengal, investing the money embezzled in Bangladesh in 20-22 properties spread over different towns in North 24 Parganas.

The Bangladeshi investigating agencies have filed 34 cases against Shibshankar Haldar and frozen 83 bank accounts allegedly operated by him in that country. Deeper investigations revealed that Haldar’s modus operandi was to obtain loans from Bangladeshi banks for benami companies that existed only on paper.

On the other hand, the ED found that the Bangladeshi nationals “managed to float companies in India on the basis of fraudulent identities”. Besides, they purchased “immovable properties” in Kolkata, North 24 Parganas and Burdwan. The ACC and FIU have found that Mridha too invested money in West Bengal, besides purchasing properties, including a bungalow in Ward No. 15 of Ashoknagar Municipality area.

ACC sources said that based on the India-Bangladesh extradition treaty, the anti-corruption agency will “do everything in its powers” to have Haldar, his brothers and other associates extradited to Bangladesh “once the Indian authorities finish with their end of the probe”.

Haldar’s name and details of the huge sums amassed by him cropped up in 2019 in the course of the Bangladeshi authorities’ drive against casinos in Dhaka that year. All the six Bangladeshi nationals managed to obtain Indian citizenship documents (including a passport) based on fraudulently securing and submitting ration cards, voter identity cards, permanent account numbers (PAN) and Aadhar cards.

According to the probe details that the ACC and the FIU shared with the Indian ED, the Bangladeshi financial institutions that Haldar, his brothers and associates “swindled” between 2009 and 2019 include the People’s Leasing and Financial Service (PLFS), FAS Finance, Reliance Finance and the International Leasing and Financial Service Ltd (ILFSL). “While liquidation proceedings have begun in the case of PLFS, the others may soon wind up,” a Bangladeshi official said.