627Published on February 13, 2021
M Azhar Uddin Bhuiyan and Saurov Dash Roni:
The trailer of Al-Jazeera’s latest report “All the Prime Minister’s Men” was released in the social media with an impression that the premier of the report would actually constitute a coup d'etat in Bangladesh. After a not so prolonged hiatus, when the report was published, the impressive cinematography, background music and use of animation failed to measure up to the hype the trailer created.
The report is based on the secretly recorded videos of Mr. Haris, according to the Al-Jazeera a psychopath (00:06:42) and, a fugitive from the country who has fled a murder conviction. It presented before us some documents to allege that Mr. Haris and his brothers run the affairs of the state. In response to the report, we have received two press releases/rejoinders: one from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh and another from Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the Defence Force of Bangladesh. In addition, we have also witnessed the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh’s reactions before the media.
Claims of Al-Jazeera vs government of Bangladesh’s response
In the following, we will logically deduce and weigh the evidence Al Jazeera has presented against each of the claims side by side with the press release and rejoinder of the Foreign Ministry and ISPR of Bangladesh.
1. Mr. Haris as the personal bodyguard of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
In support of the claim that Mr. Haris was a bodyguard of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Al-Jazeera showed one old photo from 1980-90s, where Sheikh Hasina was delivering her speech and Mr. Harris, was present on the stage behind her. While such an old photo does not prove that Mr. Haris was Sheikh Hasina’s bodyguard, it is widely known and the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has emphatically said that Sheikh Hasina has never had any personal bodyguard ever, even when she was not the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader of the Parliament.
The Foreign Minister also said if by the term ‘bodyguard’, Al-Jazeera actually meant party activist, then there are millions of such bodyguards. In the absence of any other proof from Al-Jazeera except an old photo, such a claim cannot be believed at all.
2. Haris’s fake documents and proof of money laundering
Al-Jazeera showed, in the narration of David Bergmen, that the Ahmed brothers used DHL Express Service to send Mr. Haris a new passport and other documents. The displayed shipment number, delivery and pick up time reveals several serious discrepancies. The Al-Jazeera video shows a shipment number of the parcel which contained the passport and the other alleged fake documents: 1494602955. It also disclosed additional information that the parcel was picked up by DHL on 11 January 2015, 12.46 pm and delivered on 13 January 2015, 11.55 am to ship from Dhaka to Budapest.
However, recently made available archived data of DHL of that day reveals that DHL received no such request to ship from Dhaka to Budapest in that time. Moreover, this entire report is produced to prove one Ahmed family, allegedly backed by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, is involved in money laundering and illegal gain from military procurement. Even if the documents, Bergman showed that he received from DHL, are true and photocopies of the original document, it does not automatically prove that Mr. Haris is involved in money laundering. So the concern is about the probity of the evidence adduced. Where is the evidence of any money exchanging hands? Where is the proof of Sheikh Hasina backing Mr. Haris? Could Al-Jazeera show involvement of any state official with Mr. Haris?
When Al-Jazeera brings in the supposedly neutral experts on financial crimes, Graham Barrow, to talk about how the patterns of investment of Mr Haris, he said the pattern is not inconsistent with financial crime.
But that neither proves the commission of a financial crime nor Graham Barrow himself opined that there is clear evidence of money laundering. It could as easily be said that these documents and the stories indicate the fortune of a serial entrepreneur in a new country. We have heard similar stories of failure from many Bangladeshis in Europe. Considering them money laundering is eccentric at best and delusional and megalomaniacs at worst.
3. Mr. Haris’s involvement in the procurement of Hungary made bullets and bunk beds by Bangladesh Army and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB)
The Al-Jazeera report claims Haris was a broker in Bangladesh Army’s procurement of bullets and Border Guard of Bangladesh’s procurement of bunk beds from Hungary. The first one is the procurement of Hungarian bullets by Bangladeshi Army. The secretly taped video shows (00:13:37) Mr. Haris is discussing the bullet purchase contract with Mr. Sami and later when the deal for that was taking place without his knowledge, he called someone from Budapest to stop it.
During the call, he requested, allegedly someone from the military intelligence of Bangladesh, to try to pursue that contract for Mr. Haris. He claimed that the Prime Minister said “If Haris wants to do something, let him do it. We will help him”. However, whether that was a solid bluff from an alleged psychopath is not verifiable and whether Mr. Haris ultimately managed the contract or deal was not revealed by Al-Jazeera in the show. They failed to produce any evidence that Mr. Haris’s request/bully was ultimately successful in obtaining the deal.
In support of the claim for a contract of procurement of bunk bed by BGB, Al-Jazeera presents a letter of proposal to the Border Guard of Bangladesh from the Bay-of-Bengal company that Mr. Haris owns. In the entire video, we do not observe any evidence of collusion between General Aziz Ahmed and his brother Haris Ahmed. How the presentation of a proposal letter without a subsequent letter of acceptance of such a proposal is a crime is a mystery that Al-Jazeera needs to unveil.
4. Mr. Haris’s influence in making key appointments and breakthrough deals in Bangladesh
The Al-Jazeera report shows Mr. Haris negotiating for his take from an international hotel company where there is a Bangladeshi-Irish business consultant advising him. In the meeting, they claimed Mr. Haris’s brother actually runs the country. In another part of the video, Mr. Haris claimed he makes the Ministers of Bangladesh dance when it is necessary.
He claimed that he sets the postings and promotions of top law enforcement officials. But Al-Jazeera could not show us any single example of someone who got a key position in the Government or law enforcement because of his intervention? It is beyond the understanding of a normal person how a global media platform relies solely on the words of a person whom they themselves call a psychopath.
Al-Jazeera showed (00:44:00) in the voice of Mr. Sami that a group of four DGFI officials came to visit Hungary, whom Mr. Sami did not know previously. Mr. Sami invited them for dinner. These unknown persons informed him that they will bring three more guests. According to Al-Jazeera, amongst these three, two were Israeli intelligence officers and one was Irish national. Al-Jazeera does not present any proof for such claims and immediately says that the two Israelis decided not to attend the dinner. Later they showed a photo but there are Israeli officials whom they cannot identify.
Mr. Sami narrates that the Irish man was a contractor for some surveillance equipment company as he heard them discussing purchasing some spyware and claims that he recorded the video but that clip shows no one’s face and a voice is heard who narrates the scope of the spy machinery.
But we cannot be certain whose voice it was. Mr. Sami did not reveal the names of the DGFI officials present in that meeting, did not show their face and did not identify any Israeli in the meeting. How realistic is it that officials of military intelligence will discuss procurement of spyware in front of someone whom they met for the first time? Again the telephone conversations Mr. Sami recorded does not disclose with whom Mr. Haris was communicating and whether his ‘orders’ were actually put into action. Moreover, any reasonable person in the commercial world knows about the existence of a non-disclosure clause even in regular business contracts.
On the other hand, the ISPR rejoinder strongly rejected the claim of procurement of any Mobile Interceptor Device from Israel. Even the contract deed that Al-Jazeera shows the place of manufacture of the equipment is Hungary. ISPR went further to clarify that the equipment was procured from Hungary to be deployed in the UN Peacekeeping Mission. Even if the claim of Al-Jazeera is true, it is an open secret that Israel itself regularly changes the country of origin of its exports so as to avoid trade embargoes. In addition, lack of diplomatic recognition does not mean a country cannot trade with a private party there. For example, Bangladesh does not diplomatically recognize Taiwan but the volume of business between Bangladesh and Taiwan is noteworthy.
In addition, it is also not clear whether Mr. Haris actually had access to these surveillance materials. Throughout the video, Mr. Haris, according to Al-Jazeera itself who is a psychopath, keeps self-bragging like he runs entire Bangladesh. He is a convict by the court and there is no reason to believe whatever he has to say. From the Al-Jazeera provided clip, it seems that he got information about one of his rivals by bribing the opponent’s girlfriend and not by using the technology.
Where is Al-Jazeera’s Journalistic Ethics?
Sami (fictitious name), a Bangladeshi born Hungarian citizen served as the main narrator and investigator carrying spy cam to capture all the boastful dialogues of Mr. Haris. During these short videos, it is not clear with whom Mr. Haris was speaking over the phone or whether they were really any official in charge. The report has not answered these questions, nor has it shown any evidence except for a proposal letter to sell furniture stuff to BGB, and yet made connotations that the Bangladeshi officials were swayed by Mr. Haris; like mafias do in movies. Many of the documents and information seemed not accurate, and least of all the jaw-dropping email-threat from the Bangladeshi top general as only some typed sentences with fancy letters were shown without showing at least the screenshot of the original email or revealing the email id of General Aziz. Such strong accusations without a shred of evidence decisively render the quintessential predetermined unethical journalism at its best.
This is not the first time that Al Jazeera has slipped from its ethical position while reporting on Bangladesh. Previously, Al-Jazeera has branded war-criminals as opposition leaders and facilitated a convicted genocidal mastermind invited alone and given the stage to explain his part of the story without interruptions from the concerned.
Investigation or Predetermined Conclusion?
After watching the whole report in a single sitting, any reasonable person would find the headline so misleading, with the indication of PM’s direct involvement from the headline but no substantial or even remote linking to her with the Mr. Haris and Mr. Josep, except for the ignorantly presumed bodyguard part, in the actual video. Now that foreign Minister has re-joined with the information that PM Sheikh Hasina has never had any non-official bodyguard and that Al Jazeera failed to show any other documents except for a torn out black and white picture of Mr. Haris behind her, many might be inclined not to buy this bodyguard story. We conclude with a question to Al-Jazeera: where is the Prime Minister in your "All the Prime Minister's Men'?.
Writers: Md Azhar Uddin Bhuiyan teaches law at the Dhaka International University, Bangladesh; Saurov Dash Roni is a freelance journalist
Source: Bangladesh Post