A prominent Bangladesh ruling party politician with alleged links to the capital’s underworld was arrested on Sunday in a sweeping anti-graft drive championed by the prime minister, amid corruption accusations against her government.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last month launched the crackdown, saying it was necessary to prevent a repeat of the January 2007 coup by the powerful military, which said tackling corruption was one of its key goals.
The high-profile head of the Dhaka youth wing of Hasina’s Awami League party, Ismail Hossain Samrat, was arrested with one of his associates, Bangladesh’s elite security force said.
“Samrat was arrested over concrete charges,” the Rapid Action Battalion spokesman Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan told AFP, but did not reveal what he was accused of.
“He has been linked with operating casinos in sports clubs in Dhaka,” a senior RAB officer told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Local media allege Samrat is an underworld kingpin who uses his political influence to run a network of illegal casinos and extortion rackets.
He is the most senior politician to be caught in the new graft dragnet, which has also nabbed 260 others — including at least three ruling party officials.
As part of the drive, security forces have also sealed off nearly a dozen illegal casinos in the capital.
Gambling is illegal in the conservative Muslim majority country, but gangsters are accused of introducing casino equipment such as gaming tables in some well-known sports clubs.
Immediately after his arrest, the youth wing of the ruling party expelled him for anti-social activities and breaching party discipline.
The government banned him from travel last month.
Last month, Hasina sacked two senior members of the powerful student wing of her party after they were accused of extorting large sums from a state-run university.
Since coming to power for the second time in 2009, Hasina has run the country with an iron fist, cracking down on opposition parties and jailing her main rival Khaleda Zia, who has led Bangladesh twice.
Her government has also tried and executed top Islamist leaders over war crimes.
But in recent months, opposition parties have accused Hasina’s administration and ruling party of unbridled corruption and of extorting money from government projects and laundering billions to offshore accounts.