First News
Volume:7, Number:27
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Business & Finance 1
THIS WEEK

Treacherous Transactions

| Afsana Khan |

Easy cash withdrawal process and countrywide outlets allow criminals to use mobile banking to carry out criminal activities, especially kidnapping

The mobile money transfer services are being used by miscreants to carry out extortionist activities. Since the widely used money transfer system bKash is not a traditional banking system, and many mobile phone SIMs are still unregistered despite the countrywide launch of the biometric system, many culprits are using these services to conduct their illegal transactions.

Sources said, any mobile banking service account can be opened with a copy of national identity card, passport or driving license of any individual. The service provider, which opens the account, seldom verifies these documents. Since it is not a traditional banking service, there is no option to verify the documents in any bank. As a result, many criminals are using fake identity cards and driving licenses to open bKash, Rocket, Ucash and other mobile banking accounts.

Since the cash withdrawal process is very easy, and these services have outlets countrywide, they are being used as the medium of exchanging money for various criminal activities, especially kidnapping. Many kidnapping rings are collecting ransom money using mobile banking service. Recently, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) members arrested eight members of an international kidnapping ring by tracing their bKash transactions. On November 22, three of the culprits were arrested from areas adjacent to the Uttara and Turag police stations. By tracing more transactions, RAB-1 and RAB-3 were able to arrest 5 more kidnappers of the same ring. During primary questioning, the arrestees admitted that they are part of an international crime ring, and provided additional information about other networks.

RAB’s legal and media wing said, the kidnapping rings mainly target expatriate Bangladeshis. After kidnapping a victim, they take away his passport, physically and mentally assault him, and make him call his family members and tell them about his ordeal. Later they threaten the family members to pay full amount of the ransom money to get back the captive alive. The ransom has to be paid with mobile banking services. Once they receive the money, they release the victim. However, in many cases, they do not give the victim’s passport back. Sources said, the members of the kidnapping rings never use their Treacherous Transactions Easy cash withdrawal process and countrywide outlets allow criminals to use mobile banking to carry out criminal activities, especially kidnapping personal mobile banking numbers. They give random numbers of agents to the victims’ families. Sometimes they do use personal numbers, but those accounts are opened with fake documents. As a result, the main culprits remain untraceable most of the times. However, recently a number of members involved in international crime syndicates have been arrested by using the mobile tracking system.

Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan, senior assistant director of the legal and media wing of RAB, said that recently the Bangladesh embassy in Libya contacted RAB to inform about an international kidnapping ring. The ring, made of Libyan and Bangladeshi criminals, has been abducting Bangladeshi expats in Libya to extract ransom money from their families in Bangladesh. Based on this information, RAB launched its inquiry. Meanwhile a man named Mohammad Achan Ullah from Chandpur filed a complaint to RAB- 3 against the same Libya-based ring. Following that complaint, RAB conducted several other raids and identified three of the Bangladeshi members of the ring. The main culprit, a Bangladeshi expat in Libya named Mohammad Belal Matubbar aka Zakir (33), and his associates Zakir Molla (23) and his father Hantu Molla (40) were involved in kidnapping Bangladeshis in Libya and collecting ransom through bKash transaction. Later, the Bangladesh embassy in Libya informed RAB that all three culprits were in Bangladesh. Based on that information, a raid was conducted in the Ujir Khan Kandi area of Faridpur district on November 27. During the raid, Hantu Mollah and local bKash agent Abdul Kuddus Molla were arrested. They later gave away the location of the other members of the gang. On that same day, RAB-1 arrested the other culprits, along with their associates named Mohammad Liton Khan (28) and Noor Mohammad aka Dulal (28).

During the initial questioning, the arrestees confessed to their crime. They also said that collecting ransom through bKash was a very convenient way for them since it does not require any verification, Mizanur Rahman added. Bangladesh Bank has ordered the banks to enforce strict surveillance of mobile-based transactions. According to the central bank data, BDT7 billion is being transacted through mobile banking system every day. Over 10 million customers are conducting almost 4.2 million transactions in a day. However, deputy director of Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), Al-Amin Riyad, said that the mobile banking system is already under strict surveillance. “All the banks have been instructed to keep a close watch over the mobile banking system in order to prevent criminal activities,” he said.

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