Ex-minister Saifuzzaman admits to having UK property

Ex-minister Saifuzzaman admits to having UK property

Former land minister and current lawmaker of the ruling Awami League Saifuzzaman Chowdhury on Saturday admitted to owning business and wealth in the United Kingdom.

The lawmaker, however, claimed that he did not launder or take any money from Bangladesh in possessing the assets in the UK.

Saifuzzaman, also the current chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the land ministry, came up with the remarks at a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka.

Saying that there was no corruption worth a single taka while he was a minister, he urged the formation of a high-level investigation committee if necessary to find his graft during his tenure as minister.

The lawmaker from the Chattogram-13 constituency also said that he would resign as a member of parliament if any corruption would prove against him.

The former minister described how his father had business in London since 1967. He studied in the United States and has been involved in business there  since 1991. Later, he expanded the business to London.

About the allegations of hiding his assets abroad in the affidavit submitted to the Election Commission before the January 7 national election, Saifuzzaman said that the affidavit is completely based on his income return in Bangladesh.

‘In the affidavit, it does not have a separate table for providing information on foreign assets. So, why will I go for providing additional information?’ He asked. 

He said, ‘I did not take any money from Bangladesh, so there was no need to get any approval from the Bangladesh Bank.’

Saifuzzaman said that he has separate income tax documents abroad and also has bank loans against his property there.

About the huge expansion of business in the UK during his tenure as a minister, the businessman-turned-politician said that the Corona pandemic became an opportunity for him. 

During the Corona pandemic, house prices in London fell, while bank loan interest was reduced, he said.

Taking advantage of the pandemic, he took the risk and made a fortune, he explained.

Mentioning that he is a businessman first and foremost and then a politician, Saifuzzaman said that he made wealth in his own name knowingly, as his children are not old enough to be owners.

Saifuzzaman has built up a real estate empire in the United Kingdom comprising more than 350 properties worth about £200 million, Bloomberg News reported on February 18.

The figures were based on a Bloomberg analysis of available Companies House corporate accounts in that country, mortgage charges, and HM Land Registry transactions.

Saifuzzaman’s properties range from luxury apartments in central London to housing in Tower Hamlets, home to the largest Bangladeshi community in England, and student accommodation in Liverpool.

The Bloomberg News headquartered in New York City analysed nearly 250 of his UK properties and found that almost 90 per cent were classified as new-builds when bought, a valuable component in the country’s housing market suffering severe shortages.

These transactions took place during a period when the UK government had committed to making foreign property ownership more transparent amid criticism of the ease with which Russian oligarchs were able to hide their wealth in the UK. This process became more urgent in the wake of Moscow›s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Bloomberg also identified at least five properties in Manhattan in the USA belonging to Saifuzzaman, bought for a total of about $6 million between 2018 and 2020, according to municipal property records.

Saifuzzaman was re-elected as a lawmaker, but lost his cabinet post after the January 7 national election, which was boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and a number of political parties.

Earlier, Transparency International Bangladesh at a press conference on December 26 last year, first raised the issue of a minister’s business abroad worth over Tk 203 billion.

They, however, did not disclose the name of the minister at that time.

Saifuzzaman is the son of businessman and politician Akhtaruzzaman Chowdhury.

AL former lawmaker Akhtaruzzaman who died in 2012, was the founding chairman of United Commercial Bank Limited.