Bangladeshi visa scam back in the spotlight

Twelve months ago, PNGi highlighted the unfortunate case of MD Alamin Shak.

Shak was a young Bangladeshi graduate tricked into paying K40,000 to come to Papua New Guinea to take up what he believed was a job as a supermarket manager. He ended up entrapped and working in a kai bar.

The man alleged to be behind that particular scam is Bangladeshi businessman Afazuddin Mohammad, the owner of Sonar Bangla Trading Limited.

After the report was published PNGi was contacted by the Department of Justice for further information. Two month later, in April it was reported 23 Bangladeshi citizens had been deported for immigration breaches detected some six-months earlier. Then in June 2018, a new joint government task force started making arrests in another crackdown on illegal immigration. Some of the first people seized were again Bangladeshi citizens.

Now, the Sunday Bulletin has reported, the alleged Bangladeshi ‘kingpin’ behind many of these people smuggling cases has been rounded up by police and is facing serious charges, including forgery, stealing by false pretence and being himself illegally in the country.

His name is Mohammed Nizam Uddin Mahmud and he is the owner of the grandly named Mahmud Group of Companies Ltd.

According to the Bulletin story, Mahmud has been colluding with senior officers in the PNG Immigration and Labour Departments to obtain false work visas for Bangladeshi citizens.

It is alleged Mahmud has been ‘responsible for bringing in hundreds of unskilled Bangladesh nationals into the country and spreading them across the country to operate trade stores and tucker box shop businesses in settlements, villages and suburbs’. 

This is despite Mahmud’s company reportedly having no fixed business premise and no declared staff or assets; a state of affairs that PNGi has been able to confirm from the company’s latest Annual Return, dated 6 November 2018 and signed by Mahmud himself.

Despite its ‘ghost existence’ Mahmud Group of Companies Ltd has apparently been able to secure hundreds of work visas, possibly using the Mahmud Mart business name which PNGi investigations reveal has been owned by the Mahmud Group of Companies Ltd since 2013.

The latest registration of Mahmud Mart was in November 2018 with its principal place of business listed as Section 368, Allotment 15, Hohola, Port Moresby. The same business name was originally registered in April 2013 and again in May 2016 and September 2017  

The original registration application was jointly submitted by a Susan Helai and Uddin Mahmud, both gave their address then as Taoria Street in Hanuabada village. Helai was at that time and until 2016, the majority owner of Mahmud Group of Companies Ltd, having been issued 98 shares in the company a few days after her 20th birthday.

Helai is now in business with another Bangladeshi citizen, MD Jahangir Alam. Since April 2016 they have jointly owned 4S Trading Limited

According to the Bulletin, police have obtained confidential documents and mobile text messages between Uddin Mahmud and senior Immigration and Labour officers involved in the scam. We wait to see whether these will lead to the arrest of the bureaucrats involved or whether they will be protected by their own criminal networks.

Astonishingly, this is not the first time Uddin Mahmud has been arrested on serious immigration fraud and people smuggling charges. Six years ago, in January 2013, he was arrested by the ‘Immigration Task Force Rausim Alien’. The Task Force alleged he had already brought hundreds of unskilled Bangladesh nationals into the country, for which he had been paid substantial amounts of money by potential employers in return.

According to the Sunday Bulletin, Uddin Mahmud escaped those charges by the simple ruse of fleeing to Lae while on bail.

While it might seem unlikely that Uddin Mahmud has been able to run such a seemingly successful criminal enterprise for so long all on his own, unusually for such cases, the IPA database of registered companies reveals relatively little information about Mahmud’s business associates.

As well as owning Mahmud Group of Companies Ltd, Mohammed Nizam Uddin Mahmud is a shareholder in Jams Enterprise Limited, a company he personally registered in April 2017. Mahmud is the only listed director of the company but he shares ownership with three other Bangladeshi citizens, Abul Kalam Azad, MD Jakir Hossain and Sujan Kar. The company’s main activity is listed as ‘professional services’.

Briefly, from April to November 2016, Mohammed Nizam Uddin Mahmud also owned one of three shares in and served as company secretary for Asu Limited, a Lae based but Bangladeshi owned company. According to a ‘Special Resolution’ signed by fellow shareholder and director, Asir Uddin Asu, Mahmud was removed as shareholder and company secretary after just seven months to ‘enable the smooth running of our company’.

The only other companies PNGi has been able to identify as closely linked to Mohammed Nizam Uddin Mahmud are Yas Enterprise Limited and Star Line International Limited. Both are owned by Mohammad Ashraf Uddin who, since April 2016, has been the Company Secretary for Mahmud Group of Companies Ltd.

Will the arrest of Mohammed Nizam Uddin Mahmud, the alleged kingpin behind the illegal entry of hundreds of Bangladeshi citizens into PNG, stop the tide?

Will we see the arrest and prosecution of the government bureaucrats who have been colluding in the scams? Will there be some high profile convictions? Or, will Mohammed Nizam Uddin Mahmud once again be allowed to slip the net?

PNGi will be keeping a close eye.