December 29, 2023
DHAKA – Land Minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury Javed has at least 260 properties in the United Kingdom for which he has paid at least GBP 134.76 million or Tk 1,888 crore, according to The Daily Star’s calculation from company filings publicly available on UK government websites.
The three-time Awami League lawmaker has also at least 537 mortgages against properties in the UK. A vast majority of these properties are in London.
However, his tax returns, submitted along with his affidavit to the Election Commission, states that he has no foreign income.
The affidavit says his annual income from business is only Tk 1.35 lakh. Although the affidavit must also reveal the annual income of dependents — like wife and children — the minister left that blank.
In addition, his affidavit says that he and his wife jointly hold shares and debentures of only Tk 17.90 crore, about a hundred times less than his total known investment in UK properties.
The minister, who is vying for Chattagram-13 for a fourth time, did not respond to our calls and text messages for comment.
The properties in the UK were purchased by at least eight companies in which Javed has significant stakes. The companies are Aramit Properties, Rukhmila Properties, Sadakat Properties, New Ventures (London) Limited, ZTS Properties, Zeba Properties, ZTZ Property Ventures Ltd and Zaria Properties – all incorporated in the UK between 2010 and 2021.
Of these companies, New Ventures (London) Limited is the oldest – incorporated on July 13, 2010. The land minister is currently the only director, a post he has been holding since July 2021, according to the company filings.
ZTS Properties Ltd was incorporated on February 17, 2016, and once again the minister is the sole director.
He owns a 60 percent stake in Rukhmila Properties, which was incorporated on July 6, 2019, while his wife Rukhmila Zaman owns the rest.
Javed is also the sole director of Aramit Properties incorporated on May 6, 2020; of ZTZ Property Ventures Ltd incorporated on July 30, 2020; and of Sadakat Properties Ltd formed on July 22, 2021.
He is also the only director of Zeba Properties Ltd incorporated on June 21, 2021, and of Zaria Properties LTD incorporated on the same day.
Of these companies, ZTS Properties LTD has most assets — GBP 73.15 million equivalent to Tk 1,025 crore.
This company saw its assets grow by 3.03 million pounds last year and has 2.5 million pounds worth of bank deposits.
ZTS Properties Ltd also owns most flats and homes — 179 of the 260 properties publicly listed on the UK government websites belong to this company.
The eight companies have assets worth Tk 2,423 crore, according to their financial statements filed at the end of the fiscal year 2022.
Together, these companies have Tk 37.6 crore in bank deposits.
Of his 260 properties, 155 are in London and 30 in Liverpool. The rest are scattered across Slough, Salford, Gillingham, Bromley, Camberley, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Wembley, Tunbridge Wells, Dartford, Uxbridge, Stevenage, Sevenoaks, Romford, Islington, Chelmsford, Birmingham, Upminster, Reading, Harrow, Fleet and Barnet.
His most expensive property is the historic Emerson Bainbridge House on Cleveland Street in London, for which GBP 12.65 million or Tk 177.1 crore was paid.
He purchased this property on July 16, 2021, and this is a freehold property – meaning he owns not only the house but also the land.
A large majority of the mortgage deeds drawn up between different lenders and Rukhmila Properties Ltd is signed by one Uthpal Paul, and the address provided is “53 Kalurghat Heavy Industrial Estate, Chattogram” – the same address as that of Aramit Group Ltd’s corporate office.
An internet search reveals Paul’s Linkedin profile, where he put his position as Assistant General Manager of Aramit Group.
This newspaper verified Paul’s Linkedin profile photo with his WhatsApp profile photo to verify it is the same person and contacted him over the phone.
The person picking up the phone claimed that he is not the Uthpal we were looking for even though his photo matched.
Contacted, Bangladesh Bank Executive Director and Spokesperson Md Mezbaul Haque said Bangladeshi individuals can acquire assets abroad through two processes. One is through businesses or jobs abroad and the other is through sending funds from Bangladesh with approval from the central bank.
He said it is impossible to comment on a specific individual without knowing how he acquired the wealth abroad.
“This is not the job of Bangladesh Bank to find out who owns assets abroad. It is the job of the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), and these are two separate bodies,” he said.
“I don’t know if the BFIU has taken any initiative in this regard.”
Asked if the land minister has taken any approval from the central bank, the BB spokesperson said he cannot say anything about it now.
A senior central bank official seeking anonymity said the land minister did not take any approval from the BB to send money abroad.
BFIU chief Md Masud Biswas declined to comment.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), at a press conference on Tuesday, first raised the issue of a minister’s business abroad worth over Tk 203 billion.
TIB did not disclose the name of the minister, but the anti-graft body said if any government authorities seek the information, they are ready to provide evidence.
At the press conference, TIB stated that a minister and his wife actively manage six real estate companies abroad, collectively valued at 166.4 million pounds.
TIB raised the issue as the AL candidate did not mention his investments abroad in his affidavit submitted to the Election Commission.
Immediately after TIB’s announcement, public curiosity flared about who that minister could be.
MP candidates submit their affidavits to the EC containing eight personal and financial information as the commission made it mandatory following a landmark Supreme Court verdict.
Though the candidates submit their affidavits to the EC, the commission never goes for any scrutiny to authentic their claims.
Affidavits are written statements confirmed by oath, and falsification in them is a punishable offence both in criminal laws, by up to three years in jail, and in election laws, by up to cancellation of nomination.
According to the ministry website, Javed was chairman of United Commercial Bank. He also served as the chairperson and managing director of Aramit Group, a leading commercial group in Bangladesh, chairman of North West Securities Limited and North West Shipping Lines Limited.