15 June, 2024
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US sanctions former Bangladesh Army chief Aziz Ahmed and family for ‘significant corruption’


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In a decisive move, the US Department of State has publicly designated former General Aziz Ahmed, who served as Chief of the Bangladesh Army Staff, citing his involvement in significant corruption. This designation, which extends to Aziz Ahmed’s immediate family, renders them generally ineligible for entry into the United States. The US State Department’s action underscores a commitment to combating corruption and reinforcing democratic institutions in Bangladesh.

The US Department of State has accused General Aziz Ahmed of engaging in actions that have significantly undermined Bangladesh’s democratic institutions and eroded public trust in governmental processes. A central aspect of these allegations is Ahmed’s interference in public processes to assist his brother in evading accountability for criminal activities. Additionally, Aziz Ahmed is accused of improperly awarding military contracts and accepting bribes in exchange for government appointments, thereby advancing his personal interests at the expense of public trust and governance integrity.

“This designation reaffirms the US commitment to strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law in Bangladesh’, stated a US government spokesperson. By publicly designating Gen Aziz Ahmed, the US signals its support for anti-corruption efforts in Bangladesh, highlighting initiatives to enhance transparency, improve the business environment, and build capacity to investigate and prosecute financial crimes such as money laundering.

The designation of Gen Aziz Ahmed is part of a broader US strategy to address corruption and human rights violations in Bangladesh. The sanctions were enacted under Section 7031(c) of the annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, which allows the US to impose visa restrictions on foreign officials involved in significant corruption or gross human rights violations.

This move follows previous actions by the US Treasury Department. On December 10, 2021, the Treasury imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and seven of its current and former officers for serious human rights violations. Those sanctioned included current and former RAB chiefs, Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun and Benazir Ahmed, as well as four former Additional Director Generals of Operations: Khan Mohammad Azad, Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, Mohammad Jahangir Alam, and Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan. The State Department also imposed sanctions on two individuals, Benazir Ahmed and Lt. Col. Miftah Uddin Ahmed, a former commanding officer of RAB Unit 7.

The imposition of sanctions on Aziz Ahmed came shortly after a visit by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Donald Lu, to Bangladesh. During his visit, Lu reportedly indicated US support for the potential withdrawal of sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), according to Prime Minister’s Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman F. Rahman. However, this statement was contradicted by the Principal Deputy Spokesperson at the US Department of State, Vedant Patel, who clarified that the sanctions would remain in place as they are intended to change behavior and promote accountability.

At a regular press briefing on May 16, 2024, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel addressed the claims regarding the withdrawal of sanctions against the RAB, stating, “Those claims are false. The US is not withdrawing sanctions against the RAB. Sanctions are intended to change behavior and promote accountability”.

The designation of Gen Aziz Ahmed is reportedly just the beginning of a broader campaign by the US State Department to sanction additional Bangladeshi officials. Reliable sources suggest that at least two dozen higher officials, including military officers, government secretaries, former intelligence chief, ruling party ministers and politicians are under special surveillance and may soon be added to the US sanctions list for similar reasons.

The US sanctions regime aims to pressure these individuals and the Bangladeshi government to address corruption and human rights abuses more effectively. These measures reflect a strategic approach by the U.S. to promote good governance and accountability in Bangladesh, leveraging diplomatic and economic tools to foster change.

The imposition of sanctions on high-ranking officials like Aziz Ahmed has significant implications for US-Bangladesh relations. While the US continues to support Bangladesh’s development through various programs aimed at improving governance and transparency, these sanctions highlight a critical area of contention: the Bangladeshi government’s handling of corruption and human rights issues.

Despite the tensions these actions may cause, they also present an opportunity for the Bangladeshi government to demonstrate a commitment to reform. By addressing the underlying issues that prompted the sanctions, Bangladesh can strengthen its democratic institutions and improve its international standing.

The US Department of State’s public designation of former General Aziz Ahmed and his family marks a significant step in the fight against corruption in Bangladesh. This action underscores the US’s commitment to promoting accountability and reinforcing democratic institutions. As the United States prepares to sanction additional Bangladeshi officials, the broader implications for governance, rule of law, and US-Bangladesh relations remain profound.

The ongoing surveillance and potential sanctions on other high-ranking officials further highlight the US’s strategic approach to combating corruption and human rights abuses in Bangladesh. By addressing these issues, Bangladesh has the opportunity to strengthen its democratic institutions and enhance its relationship with the international community, ultimately fostering a more transparent and accountable governance framework.

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