The Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera on Monday released an investigative report that implicates top Bangladeshi officials in a scheme involving passport fraud and abuse of power to profit from government contracts and job positions.
"All the Prime Minister's Men" accuses General Aziz Ahmed, chief of staff for the Bangladeshi Army, of helping to protect his brothers, Haris and Anis Ahmed, who are wanted for the 1996 murder of a rival politician.
The Al Jazeera report, which is the product of a two-year investigation, claims that Haris escaped prosecution in Bangladesh by fleeing to Hungary and Anis to Malaysia. While in Hungary, Haris changed his identity to "Mohammad Hasan," allegedly with the help of General Ahmed.
Once he changed his identity, Haris was able to set up a business and buy properties across Europe, allegedly by funneling money from Bangladesh accrued by a large-scale bribery scheme.
The report claims that Haris made money as a middleman, collecting bribes in exchange for using his connections with Dhaka officials to award plum government contracts to the highest bidder.
The Al Jazeera investigation contained recordings of Haris indicating that the Ahmed brothers have been selling off jobs in Bangladesh's police forces for hundreds of thousands of dollars "in collusion with senior officers."
The recording also implicates the "home minister, the inspector general and the police commissioner" in helping to coordinate bribe payments.
Connection to Sheikh Hasina?
Al Jazeera claims General Ahmed has close connections with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and Haris and Anis Ahmad served as the prime minister's bodyguards when she led the then-opposition party Awami League.
The Al Jazeera report claims that Hasina is providing political protection to the Ahmed brothers. It contains a recording of a phone call during which General Ahmed recalls Hasina referring to the brothers as her "mainstay" during an occasion when her life was threatened.
Soon after the report was released Monday, the Bangladeshi government released a statement denying any links between Hasina and Haris Ahmed.
"There is not a shred of evidence linking the prime minister and other state institutions of Bangladesh to this particular individual," the statement from the Foreign Ministry said.
Report 'false and defamatory'
The Foreign Ministry statement also rejected other findings of the Al Jazeera investigation, calling the report "false and defamatory," while claiming it was fed to the broadcaster by anti-Bangladeshi groups and political opponents of the Awami League.
"The report is nothing more than a misleading series of innuendos and insinuations in what is apparently a politically motivated 'smear campaign' by notorious individuals associated with the Jamaat-i-Islami extremist group," the Foreign Ministry said, referring to the Islamist political party that is a rival to Hasina's Awami League.
"Dhaka regrets that Al Jazeera has allowed itself to become an instrument for their malicious political designs aimed at destabilizing the secular democratic government of Bangladesh with a proven track record of extraordinary socio-economic development and progress," the statement said.
Local media has so far published only the government response to the documentary. One of the leading local newspapers, The Daily Star, said in its editorial that the reason behind this is the country's Digital Security Act, a controversial law that could be used to suppress free speech.
"We are facing the absurd situation of publishing the government response without publishing what the government is responding to. So far, we have neither carried what the Al Jazeera reported nor any synopsis of it," the editorial said.
"Readers are fully entitled to ask why there is such an absence of similar reporting in the local media," it added, while calling the DSA one of the "most comprehensively restrictive and oppressive laws against the free press anywhere."