Al Jazeera film on Bangladesh wins prestigious investigative award

Award jury praised “All the Prime Minister’s Men” as providing “a unique insight into a state captured by organized crime and corruption”.

Al Jazeera film on Bangladesh wins prestigious investigative award

Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s film, All the Prime Minister’s Men, first broadcast in February 2021, which exposed state corruption at the highest level in Bangladesh, won the prestigious DIG award for best long investigative documentary.

In giving its award last week to the broadcaster, the DIG jury noted that: “This astounding revelation of corruption puts the viewers in the rooms where these brazen callousness of abuse are folding out. Thanks to the bravery of a whistleblower and the team’s ability to track down and film the top men, we get a unique insight into a state captured by organized crime and corruption. This extraordinary investigation, that caused a firestorm in Bangladesh, holds power to account at the very highest level.”

The DIG had also described it as a “gripping account of how a criminal family linked to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is colluding with Bangladesh’s security forces to capture a state.”  

The documentary won through stiff competition including the BBC documentary “The Baby Stealers”. The award ceremony took place on October 3rd 2021.

A podcast on the series also won an award and was described as “encompass[ing] all the most interesting elements of an investigation: the bravery in digging in a story, the high-level quality of its syntax and writing, the brilliant audio recording and editing.”

DIG stands for “Documentari, Inchieste, Giornalismi” (Documentaries, Investigations, Journalisms). Since 2015, DIG has organised and promoted a festival “which has become a point of reference for those journalists who focus on investigation and reportage.”

The documentary by Al Jazeera Investigative Unit exposed widespread political and financial corruption at the heart of the Bangladesh government centring around Chief of Army Staff General Aziz Ahmed and his two fugitive brothers, both convicted of murder, and implicating the prime minister, the home minister and senior police officers.

The film, broadcast on February 1st 2021 showed how the head of Bangladesh’s army, Chief of Army Staff General Aziz Ahmed, assisted one of his fugitive brothers Haris Ahmed to escape punishment following a conviction for murder, using falsified official documents and a new fake identity. The fake documents, which included false birth, education and marriage certificates allowed the brother who was at that time  on the Bangladesh police list of “most wanted criminals”, to travel abroad on a false passport under the name of “Mohammed Hasan” and open businesses in Hungary and France.

Secret filming undertaken by Al Jazeera Investigative Unit, also exposed Haris Ahmed’s involvement in a nexus of corrupt financial deals, leveraging the position held by his brother, the chief of army staff, to obtain army contracts and seeking opportunities to become a middleman in various international investments.  In the film, Al Jazeera refers to the Ahmed brothers as “a crime family at the centre of power” with one contributor in the film referring to the family’s activities as “an organised crime syndicate”.

Haris admitted in the documentary that along with the home minister and the country’s most senior police officials, he obtained bribes in exchange for transferring police officers. “Actually, the transfer bribe is taken by the home minister, the Inspector General and the police commissioner,” Haris said in the film. “These three people. If there is a contract for $625,000, we give them $375,000 and the remaining $250,000 will be ours.”

Haris is also filmed recounting how he used the elite police unit, the Rapid Action Battalion, which is dominated by military officers, as his private security force: “My gangsters are RAB. I don’t need thugs, these (RAB) are my thugs. Pick someone up, detain someone. They make money, I make money.  A straightforward deal.” The programme also detailed how Haris boasts how he used RAB to track the mobile phone of one of his rivals, Selim Prodhan, to get him arrested.

The Bangladesh ministry of foreign affairs responded to the film at the time: “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.”

Aziz Ahmed subsequently retired from his position as Chief of Army Staff in June 2021. After the film was broadcast, Bangladesh media reported that in March 2019, the home ministry had secretly remitted the life imprisonment sentence of the two brothers earlier convicted of murder.

In a statement the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit said that it was delighted that All The Prime Minister’s Men won the awards and pointed out that. “Among other things the international jury recognised the importance of holding power to account in countries like Bangladesh where freedom of the press is severely curtailed and human rights are under serious threat. AJI would also like to recognise the courage of the whistle-blowers who contributed so much to the investigation.”●