The Talented Dr. Richard Benkin

[Hat tip to Shafiur via his comment and another hat tip to Salam Dhaka and Shuchinta]

Lutfuzzaman Babar, Former State Minister for Home Affairs, BangladeshIt turns out that Dr. Richard Benkin, the "reporter" who is the source of stories about Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and Mr. Choudhury’s supporter, is registered as a foreign lobbyist. However, if I asked you to guess which government he represented, you would probably be way off the mark.

On September 6, 2005 Dr. Richard Benkin registered as a foreign agent with the United States Department of Justice, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), for the Government of Bangladesh. [Click here to see the registration document.] Given the kind of articles Dr. Benkin writes about Bangladesh, this revelation is rather shocking.

Dr. Benkin was hired to prepare and disseminate informational materials via radio or TV broadcasts, magazines or newspaper articles, letters or telegrams, press releases and the internet. He was hired to disseminate this information to public officials, civic groups or associations, legislators, newspapers and editors. According to the document filed with the US government, Dr. Benkin had already received $5000 from the Government of Bangladesh as payment for his services. He was to receive $5000 per month based on an oral agreement between Dr. Benkin and the Government of Bangladesh. According to the filing:

The Registrant agreed to provide Public Relations services to the Foreign Principal at a cost of $5000.00 per month, to be paid to the Registrant at the beginning of each month for services that month. There is no formal duration, but it is expected to last at least twelve months.

A month after Dr. Benkin filed his paperwork, the respected lobbying firms Ketchum Washington and The Washington Group also registered as foreign agents for the Government of Bangladesh to do public relations. [Click here to see Ketchum's registration and click here to see The Washington Group's registration.]

There is one significant difference between Dr. Benkin’s lobbying and those of Ketchum and The Washington Group. While Ketchum and The Washington Group indicated in their filing that they would deal with the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington via the ambassador, Shamsher M. Chowdhury, the filing by Dr. Benkin indicated that he would deal with Lutfuzzaman Babar, State Minister for Home Affairs in Bangladesh. The difference is significant.

As an aside, the reader will note that in the first email Rabbi Sue Levy sent me regarding Mr. Choudhury, she accused the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington of trying to discredit Mr. Choudhury.

It does seem unusual that Dr. Benkin would ink his deal with a Bangladeshi state minister involved with domestic law and order, rather than with the official representative of Bangladesh, that is the ambassador and the Embassy. Why the Bangladesh Embassy was sidestepped in a foreign lobbying effort is certainly food for thought. Further Mr. Babar is featured and cited in a large number of Dr. Benkin’s "reports" about Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury – yet, Dr. Benkin never mentions that he is a paid consultant working for Mr. Babar. Mr. Babar was also featured in a glowing article dated June 15, 2006 entitled "Babar & His Magic Stick" in the Asian Tribune, Dr. Benkin’s mouthpiece of choice. The article was written by a certain Christopher Giddings whose prose is decidedly Bangladeshi in tone, rather than one of a native english speaker.

Those familiar with Bangladesh will note that Mr. Babar is a young politician who gained a reputation for ruthlessness by creating the Rapid Action Battalian (RAB) in March 2004, a paramilitary force responsible for countless extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh. Those unfamiliar with RAB under Mr. Babar can get a sense of their modus operandi by reading the publication "Judge, Jury and Executioner" by Human Rights Watch.

The current interim government in Bangladesh is likely tightening the noose on Mr. Babar, now the former state minister, on alleged corruption charges. So far, anti-corruption forces have raided his home, and have arrested his personal secretary and his cousin on corruption charges.

I can see why Mr. Babar might want a personal PR man to defend his brand of human rights abuses – a lot of people have famously died in the "crossfire" as RAB hunted extremists and common criminals alike. However, Mr. Babar might have been running his own little fiefdom without official government sanction. It makes little sense that at the same time the Government of Bangladesh, through legitimate diplomatic channels, was enlisting the likes of Ketchum and The Washington Group, that a state minister in Bangladesh would hire a foreign lobbyist on his own. It also seems odd that he is repeatedly cited by Dr. Benkin in his "reports" that masquerade as news stories without mentioning that Dr. Benkin is on Mr. Babar’s payroll. I am sure the anti-corruption authorities in Bangladesh will have a few questions.

There is a lot of reporting to be done here. I leave it to the reader and fellow Bangladeshi bloggers to fill in the blanks to paint the complete picture. Something smells, and it smells bad.

BONUS for Bangladeshi readers: Here is a glowing article about Tareque Rahman by the aforementioned Christopher Giddings in the Asian Tribune. For non-Bangladeshis, Tareque Rahman, the son of the previous prime minister, is known in Bangladesh as "Mr. Ten Percent" and he has just been arrested for massive corruption.

 [FARA documents via Shuchinta]

 

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16 Responses to The Talented Dr. Richard Benkin

  1. Robbie says:

    Aah, the plot thickens. Great work, Mash. I knew your blog wasn’t a fraud. I wonder what the opposing view’s response will be to this little nugget of information. :-”

  2. ZaFa says:

    Great digging! Bring the rats out of their holes.
    I have wondered why Babar hasn’t been on the list of hundred corrup individuals (many of them former ministers and MPs) that are being detained. Rumor had it, he used to have his own trained army of goons that attacked prominent poiticians during rallies in the last five years.

  3. Salam Dhaka says:

    What a bizzare world.

    Good question – why is Babar not on the first 100 list?

    Richard Benkin lobbying for him? :-)

  4. Mash says:

    Robbie, I think the conversation in the other thread has hit rock bottom :)

    Zafa, Salam Dhaka, I think the charges against Shoiab are starting to get some meat on the bones. Dr. Benkin has been rather busy for his client. I wonder how many folks in Bangladesh actually know about the connection between Benkin and Babar from the filings in the US.

    Another thing to track down is this “Christopher Giddings” of the Asian Tribune. My money is that it is a pseudonym for some Bangladeshi writer. I have an obvious guess but it needs to be run down first. The two pieces he wrote praising Babar and Tareque are quite hilarious – the most sycophantic Bengali would have to work hard to heap such praise.

    Like I said, there is definitely some there there.

  5. Group Captain Mandrake says:

    Great digging, Mash–investigative journalism at its best. This deal just keeps getting more interesting.

  6. sharon says:

    Why are you trying to discredit Dr. Benkin? He, I believe is very sincere, and has helped Mr. Choudhury. Mr. Choudhury tries to fight propaganda and is an honest man.

  7. Mash says:

    Sharon, I think his record speaks for itself.

  8. Sajjad Jahir says:

    Benkin should repent for his role during BNP-Jamaat raj.

  9. Sajjad Jahir says:

    Sharon is very much wrong. Shoaib is the most dishonest person I ever came across. Less than two years ago, he was in New York hotel where a number of high profile businessmen and lobbyists were giving him awards. Shoaib, the crook was sitting side by side with the Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel. In his speech, Shoaib made up a story of a fourteen year Jewish girl in Chittagong being raped. He knew it was a big lie, but he wanted to dramatize bringing persecution of Jews in Bangladesh. He was challenged by a Bengali guy and could not give any good answer for his lie. Read the following essay:
    http://deshivoice.blogspot.com/2009/04/karma-chameleon-salah-uddin-shoaib.html

  10. Jordan says:

    I saw Mr Choudhury speak at Rutgers during his most recent US tour. Mr. Choudhury was invited by various Jewish student groups at the school. I knew that something was strange when only Rutgers and Yale invited him to speak. An outspoken Muslim friend of Israel! Jailed and beaten for his beliefs! This should have been so interesting that Jewish student groups would be climbing over to invite him to speak. As a former Hillel event leader I thought about contacting my alma matter and telling them that they had to bring him – thank god I didn’t.

    At the talk, I naively remarked to the girl next to me that he seemed to be in remarkable physical health for someone who had been severely beaten so many times. I detected no limps or scars. I generally am an obsessive googler of any person or talk that I am going to meet, as I believe that it is always beneficial to have context, but in this case I had been too busy in the days before the talk. While sitting there I started research him and Benkin through my phone’s web browser, which is when I came across this blog. As an American Jew who made great sacrifices to move to Israel and serve in the IDF, there are few people who can claim to be bigger supporters of Israel than I. As such I was deeply embarrassed when I started putting the pieces together and realized what a sham this was. Mr. Choudhury’s “talk” was nothing more than a diatribe against the Arab and Muslim worlds, in such simplistic and exaggerated terms as to be insulting to anyone with a hint of intelligence, let alone an esteemed university. I am a relatively right-wing Israeli voter – I voted for Ariel Sharon over Ehud Barak (although more recently chose Tzipi Livni over Bibi Netanyahu) and am doubtful about the viability of the two-state solution – but this was so low that I felt dirty and complicit just listening to it. When his “speech” ended after only 10-15 minutes I got up and left before the questions and the love-fest began.

    It’s been a month and I am still embarrassed to have fallen for this ruse.

  11. Jordan says:

    I should also add that this story is so bizarre that I feel even Kafka could not have made it up.

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  13. Marlene says:

    I agree that this person is a total liar, cheat and phony. He steals money from people. I am a USA journalist and I want to expose him. Research of BD documents would help. Please write to me at msgrnbrg@aol.com if you want to help with this.

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