After Monday’s arrest of Erfan Salim, son of Awami League leader Haji Md Salim, law enforcers have unearthed tales of his lavish lifestyle, which included 12 bodyguards and 30 to 40 young men at his beck and call.
Erfan, councillor of Ward-30 under Dhaka South City Corporation, took over the throne of Haji Salim, lawmaker of Dhaka-7, after he fell sick in 2018.
Speaking to The Daily Star, law enforcers, who interrogated Erfan Salim and one of his bodyguards Zahidul Islam, disclosed details of his luxurious lifestyle. They also found a personal surveillance network that included close-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and smuggled walkie-talkies that Erfan used to monitor his business empire.
Erfan first appointed 12 bodyguards and also had a team of around 30 to 40 men, who were a constant presence in his nine-story-building — Chan Sarder Dada Bari — at Debidasbhat Lane in Chawkbazar.
When appointing bodyguards, Erfan — also son-in-law of an MP from Noakhali — chose only those who hailed from Gopalganj district and who, in his eyes, had a “smart outlook”.
When going about on his Land Rover, Erfan was usually accompanied by three or four bodyguards, who were suspected to have been carrying illegal firearms.
Like a special security force, these body guards also carried a special briefcase and handcuffs.
A RISE BACKED BY HIS FATHER
According to sources, AL-backed candidate Haji Mohammad Hasan Pillu — who is a nephew of Haji Salim — was the DNCC Ward-30 councillor.
In recent years, sources said Pillu refused to obey some of Haji Salim’s decisions. Haji then brought his younger son Erfan to contest against Pillu as an independent candidate in the last councillor election.
The Daily Star asked Pillu about the rivalry, but he refused to comment.
Law enforcement sources said Erfan installed a personal networking system and close-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to monitor his business activities and empire.
A couple of years ago, he allegedly smuggled walkie-talkie handsets from abroad and installed a tower on the rooftop of the 16-storey Madina Ashik Tower in Chawkbazar.
With these walkie-talkie handsets, he was capable of maintaining a communication network throughout a 10-kilometer area. As the devices operated on a special frequency system, no one was able to monitor the communication .
A Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) official, who was present during the drive on Monday to arrest Erfan, said they recovered around 38 walkie-talkie handsets but they believe there are more, which are suspected to be used by Erfan’s associates.
“We have not even gotten any trace of Erfan’s other bodyguards,” the official told The Daily Star yesterday.
Apart from the handsets, Erfan had a torture cell on the rooftop of Ashik Tower, where he used to take those who did not obey his directions or refused to pay him.
Speaking to this correspondent, Jahid Hossain, a businessman in Old Dhaka, said he had seven shops in Bashir Market in Chawkbazar.
“Just a day before Eid, Erfan’s people called me to the rooftop and took me inside a room on the tower and forcibly made me sign over my shops, worth around Tk 2 crore, for a pittance,” he alleged.
Locals claimed Erfan used to play badminton on the rooftop and set off fireworks. They also alleged that whenever Erfan saw any abandoned buildings in the area, he used to board them up and lay claim to them.
Investigators claimed that when searching Erfan’s residence, they found a list of people, including government officials, who allegedly used to help him grab land and property.
“In exchange for help in illegal activities, Erfan used to send them gifts. We are now analysing the claim,” added a Rab high-up involved with the investigation.
Meanwhile, two separate cases were filed against Erfan and his bodyguard Zahidul with Chawkbazar Police Station on charges of carrying illegal firearms and possessing narcotics, said Lt Col Ashique Billah, director of Rab’s legal and media wing.
Erfan and Zahidul were earlier handed over to Keraniganj Central Jail as Erfan was already sentenced to one year in prison by a Rab mobile court for possessing narcotics and six more months for illegally using walkie-talkies.
Zahidul was also handed a six-month prison sentence for using walkie-talkies.
Meanwhile, Detective Branch (DB) of police arrested AB Siddique Dipu, personal assistant to Erfan, from his Tangail home in a case filed over the assault of a Navy official, said HM Azimul Haque, deputy commissioner of Ramna division DB.
Dipu was produced before a Dhaka court with a seven-day remand plea.
Erfan and Zahid were also shown arrested in the navy officer assault case with a petition for seven-day remands for each.
The court later granted a three-day remand for Dipu. The hearing on the remand pleas against Erfan and Zahid will take place today.
Earlier, Lt Wasif Ahmad of Bangladesh Navy filed the case against Erfan and four others for assaulting him in the capital.
Meanwhile, the Local Government Division (LGD) suspended Erfan from his councillor’s post.
The order, signed by LGD Deputy Secretary ANM Foyzul Haque, says since there is a criminal case filed against Erfan and he has been sentenced to one year in prison, he is suspended according to the Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009.
Earlier, the DSCC in a letter informed the LGD about Erfan’s imprisonment, referring to media reports.