AL MP Golap owns nine properties in New York City

Finds OCCRP probe
Abdus Sobhan Miah Golap
Abdus Sobhan Miah Golap

Awami League lawmaker Abdus Sobhan Miah Golap concealed information about being an American citizen and owning nine properties in New York City in his election affidavit in 2018, found an investigation by a global media agency -- raising questions about his seat in the parliament.

Golap, who was given the post of central committee's publicity and publication secretary in the AL's national council last month, bought the properties between 2014 and 2019, according to a report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists.

Of the nine properties, which cost Golap about $4 million, eight were bought with upfront cash payments. His last purchase -- a semi-detached house in Jackson Heights that cost $1.18 million -- was made through a small mortgage and cash in 2019, after he became an MP, according to the report, published on Friday.

The OCCRP investigation found no viable source of income in the US that would have enabled him to buy the properties: he made ends meet through a series of low-paying jobs like driving an unlicensed taxi in New York City, working as a cashier in a branch of the pharmacy store chain Walgreens and making pizzas.

This raises the question of whether the real estate purchases were made with money sent from Bangladesh, which would involve Golap breaking rules, the report said.

Bangladesh Bank does not allow the transfer of money outside of the country to purchase residential properties abroad.

Golap, who became involved with the student wing of the AL back in his university days in the 1970s, moved to the US in the 1980s and went on to obtain citizenship, according to the report.

For the next three decades, he moved between the US and Bangladesh.

The OCCRP report said his property purchase spree in New York City's Queens borough began in 2014, five years after the AL swept back into power.

By 2018, when he was elected an MP from his native Madaripur-3 constituency, he had purchased eight flats in New York for about $3.1 million.

In his election affidavit, he concealed both his real estate portfolio in the US and -- his American citizenship, the report added.

Bangladesh's constitution does not allow any foreign national to contest in the election. Once the foreign citizenship is rescinded, they are free to run for office.

Golap renounced his US citizenship on August 15, 2019, according to official records obtained by OCCRP -- seven months after he was sworn in the parliament as an MP.

Rafiqul Islam, who served as one of the Election Commissioners from 2017 to 2022, told OCCRP that Golap's failure to disclose his ties to the US could have consequences.

"If it is proven that he lied about his wealth abroad in the affidavit, he can lose his seat in the parliament -- questions will be raised," Islam said.

Golap did not respond to The Daily Star's request for comments.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters at his EC office yesterday, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir said if someone provides false information in the affidavit and if someone challenges it before the election, the commission can look into it and take action. However, once someone is elected, the EC has nothing to do in this regard.

The Anti-Corruption Commission will look into anything related to corruption, and it can file a case in line with relevant law. If a candidate has not paid taxes or declared the wealth, the National Board of Revenue can do the same.

Giving an example, Alamgir said if a person shows educational qualifications even when he or she does not have any, police will file a criminal case. The EC will take action once that person is convicted and punished.

Asked about allegations that Golap took part in the election with dual citizenship, Alamgir said: "Foreign nationals cannot take part in vote. But is it proven? The home ministry deals with citizenship issues. If they tell us, we will see to it according to the law."

Mahbubul Alam Hanif, a joint general secretary of the AL, declined to make any comment on the matter, as it is "related to personal issues".

"We feel embarrassed while going through such news," a senior presidium member of the AL and a senior minister told The Daily Star on the condition of anonymity.

The OCCRP report should be taken into consideration with high priority in Bangladesh, Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, told The Daily Star.

"These are violations of laws that are punishable in Bangladesh as well as the US."

Exemplary accountability must be ensured in the due process without any delay, he said.

"As the political environment in the country heats up for national election, this should be taken as a test case for the government and the ruling party to demonstrate to the people that the relevant authorities have the courage and will to prove that the pledge of zero tolerance against corruption is more than rhetoric."