WATCH: Ajax property entrepreneur Tarekh Rana haunted by Bangladesh fugitive crime boss doppelganger
Tarekh Rana wasted no time making a name for himself after moving to Canada five years ago. He launched a development company east of Toronto and became known as a politically-connected global entrepreneur and philanthropist.
He donated to charities and political candidates, and photos on social media showed him in the company of MPs and mayors. He won civic awards and was a 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year in Ajax, Ont., where his business is based.
“I’ve visited 92 countries, and Canada is the best of them all,” he was quoted as telling a local magazine, which declared him one of the country’s new titans. He added that the “best thing about Canada is Canadians.”
“They treat me so nice.”
But an investigation by Global News and Bangladesh’s The Daily Star newspaper has found striking similarities between Rana and an international fugitive accused of leading a criminal organization behind a series of extortions and murders.
Both Rana and the wanted man, Khandekar Tanvirul Islam, alias Joy, an alleged leader of the Seven Star crime group, are 52, similar in appearance and lived in Kolkata, India.
Police and court records allege that a man identified by his co-accused as the Seven Star leader was arrested in Kolkata in 2007, and that he used the alias Md. Tarek Rana. The Ajax businessman also goes by Md. Tarekh Rana.
A photo allegedly taken following the 2007 arrest of the suspect alleged to be Joy shows a man resembling Rana.
An Indian passport in the name Md. Tarekh Rana is also in an Indian court file stemming from the arrest, identified as that of the man who was take into custody.
The birth date, father’s name and wife’s name in the passport match those of the Ajax entrepreneur.
Shown the passport, Rana confirmed it was his but denied being arrested in Kolkata or anywhere else and raised the possibility he had been the victim of identity theft.
“I am now really shocked because for some reason someone is using my passport & picture,” he responded in an email.
He insisted he was simply an Indian businessman living in Canada on a work permit. He and his immigration lawyer said he had been cleared by the RCMP, partly through fingerprinting.
But the parallels between Rana and the wanted man are compelling.
According to court documents, the man arrested in India 12 years ago has a remarkably similar health history to Rana’s, having undergone surgery on both legs in Kolkata in early 2007 to treat severe arthritis. Rana said he had undergone the same procedure in Kolkata in late 2006 and early 2007.
The Indian court file of the man alleged to be Joy includes a driver’s licence, bank statements, business records and tax returns — all under the name Md. Tarekh Rana. They describe the suspect as born on March 3, 1967. Ontario property records show the Ajax developer has the same date of birth.
The suspect was also portrayed in the Indian court proceedings as the owner of the Kolkata garment business Gaus Fashion. Rana told Global News that was the name of the Kolkata garment company he sold in 2013 before moving to Canada.
The arrested man’s father was named in court materials as Sohel Rana. The Ajax businessman told Global News that was his father’s name. The signature in the court file is also similar to Rana’s.
Joy’s current whereabouts are unknown. His photo appears on the Interpol website, where he is listed as wanted for murder and possession of explosives. He is also on the most wanted list of the Bangladesh Police.
“The subject decidedly tops the list of the most wanted fugitives who are either charged with or convicted of serious crimes,” Mohiul Islam, Assistant Inspector General of the Bangladesh Police, told Global News.
A list of the charges he faces includes three murders, two attempted murders, causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons and putting persons in fear of injury to commit extortion, the officer said.
Approached at his Ajax office, Rana acknowledged he looked like the fugitive and disclosed that the RCMP had raised the same concern. But he denied he was Joy.
“I’m not this guy,” he responded, when shown the Interpol photo of the wanted man.
Rana has since left the country. He said he was in India securing money for his Ajax business and would return to Canada on Nov. 28, but there is no indication he has come back.
Legal notices on his office door accuse him of having failed to pay his rent, and those who have loaned him money are concerned.
“Everybody trusted him,” said one Canadian who knows him.
In his responses to Global News, Rana said he was an Indian citizen, while Joy is Bangladeshi. He also said he was taller than Joy, and was hospitalized following leg-shortening surgeries at the time the alleged crime boss was arrested.
He said he had received a clean criminal record check from police in Kolkata as part of his current application to become a permanent resident of Canada. “If I would be arrested how would I get it??”
He said he knew nothing about the fugitive except that he had escaped from Bangladesh and had made Rana’s life difficult. Nor did he know anything about the crime group Joy had allegedly headed.
“What is Seven Star?” he asked.
The Seven Star Group of Bangladesh
Seven Star is a violent extortion ring formed in Bangladesh in the ’90s. Its members allegedly targeted businesses in the capital Dhaka. For a time, they singled out overseas employment recruiting agencies.
Joy would allegedly contact the business owners to demand money. If they didn’t pay up, his alleged associates would drop by, sometimes with weapons. A handful of shootings and killings were linked to the group.
In 2000, Joy was arrested after allegedly posing as the son of the prime minister and demanding “tolls” from companies. Bangladesh Police said he was also charged that year with murder and assault with a weapon.
He reportedly left Bangladesh for Malaysia in 2001. By 2003, The Daily Star was reporting he was in India. When Bangladesh Police released a poster of its 23 most wanted crime figures, Joy was featured prominently.
Gunmen later opened fire at the Turki Associate office in Dhaka. Six were shot and two died. Following the attack, Joy allegedly phoned again to demand payment. A pair of Joy’s alleged associates were later arrested.
Joy is also wanted in connection with the September 2006 murder of Afted Ahmed, a Dhaka University political science professor, police said.
An April 2007 shooting at God Gift International Recruiting Agency in Dhaka was also linked to Joy, who had phoned the company from India, demanding 50 million taka, The Daily Star reported. Two of his alleged associates were arrested and reportedly confessed to receiving orders from one of Joy’s lieutenants.
The Indian police investigation
At 6:45 p.m. on March 17, 2007, police arrested six Bangladeshi men at the Kasba Petrol Pump in Kolkata, the capital of India’s West Bengal state.
The officers were acting on “secret and credible source information,” a police report said. Three dubious passports were found during the arrest.
“On further interrogations all the above noted Bangladeshi nationals admitted they had entered India without any valid documents and authority and through a clandestine route,” according to the police records.
But that wasn’t all they told police.
They also disclosed that the “Seven Star Militant Outfit” leader was in the city and had taken “shelter with the support of forged documents,” according to court records.
Indian police made their move on May 5, 2007, according to court and police records. When they arrived at his residence, however, they found a man recovering from arthritis-related leg surgery and unable to walk.
Police arrested him but took him to a hospital. A judge ordered him brought before the court once doctors pronounced him well enough. A report by West Bengal Police said “serious incriminating materials” supported the allegations against him.
The arrest was widely reported in the Indian and Bangladeshi press. The Daily Star reported on May 8 that Bangladesh had sent a letter to India’s foreign ministry requesting Joy’s handover. The story called him a “dreaded crime lord.”
“Holding an Indian passport, Joy was impersonating as Tarique Rana Joy, a fabric trader in Kolkata for the last one and a half years,” bdnews24.com reported, quoting an unnamed Indian police source.
Three months later, the suspect’s lawyers filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court claiming he was “absolutely innocent” and had been falsely implicated “due to some grudge.”
Insisting he was a tax-paying Indian garment dealer, he gave the court documents that identified him as Md. Tarekh Rana, the proprietor of Gaus Fashion and Zee Fashion. The files did not cover the period prior to 2004.
He also filed an Indian driver’s licence issued in 2004 in the name Tarekh Rana, and an Indian passport issued in 2005 that showed visits to Singapore and exchanges of U.S. dollars to Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean currencies.
His lawyers argued he was being wrongfully detained because he had never been produced before a judge. The court dismissed the argument, ruling he couldn’t be arraigned because he was hospitalized.
Global News was unable to find any record of what happened to the case. There is no indication he was ever convicted. An Indian lawyer said he had represented Joy over a “human rights violation” and an arrest was overturned.
An Indian police officer who worked on the case said Joy had confessed but was freed and left the country. The Times of India reported he was released in June 2008 and went missing in December, prompting his family to blame police.
A decade later, Bangladesh Police learned that Joy had obtained an Indian passport under the “pseudonym Tarek Rana” and made his way to Australia, according to Assistant Inspector General Islam.
Police asked Australian authorities to find him but received a reply from Canberra indicating that “there was no trace of entry by the subject to Australia,” Islam said.
The Times of India reported in 2012 that Joy was “now in Canada.”
To Canada for love
“I came to Canada chasing the love of my heart,” Rana was quoted as saying in the magazine Millionaire Mindset, which wrote that a woman he met in Kolkata had immigrated to Toronto and he followed her.
(Rana denied giving an interview to Millionaire Mindset, but the author of the article said he had interviewed Rana at his office and had his notes as proof.)
Rana told Global News he first visited Toronto in 2011, after recovering from his leg-shortening surgeries in Kolkata and working on “projects” in Thailand, Malaysia and Australia.
He said he then returned to India and applied to come back to Canada as an immigrant investor but was turned down due to his lack of formal education. He then obtained a 10-year-visitor visa, he said.
Although only in Canada as a visitor, Rana began putting down roots in Durham Region. He bought a house in Pickering and launched a company, adopting a corporate slogan brimming with optimism: “You dream it, we build it!”
Ontario corporate records show SJ71 Ltd. was registered with the provincial government on Feb. 21, 2013 by two directors, Rana and Shohana Ajmee.
Ajmee told Global News she never agreed to be on the SJ71 board of directors. When she found out, she said she confronted Rana about it and he agreed to replace her.
The directorship served a practical purpose: Ontario companies must have at least one board member who is a resident of Canada. As a visitor, Rana would not have qualified, but Ajmee did.
Records show that Ajmee was replaced in 2014 by an entrepreneur who had once sought a federal Liberal nomination. Rana did not respond to questions about Ajmee.
Rana said his troubles with Canadian authorities began in 2015.
Returning from a destination wedding in Mexico, he was pulled aside and questioned by immigration officers about his likeness to Joy, he said. When he applied for a work permit the next year, he found himself under RCMP scrutiny.
“They took my facial recognization, they took my fingerprint, everything,” he said.
For help securing his work permit, Rana turned to the office of the Liberal MP for Ajax, Mark Holland.
“Our office conducted standard inquiries for this constituent, as we would for any constituent asking for such an inquiry,” said Holland’s spokesperson, Michael Radoslav.
“Neither MP Holland nor does his office staff have any knowledge of Rana’s past before arriving in Canada, and no knowledge of anything other than his work permit application and related inquiries into that file with Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada.”
Rana and Holland have appeared in several photos together at events and at the SJ71 office, but the MP’s spokesperson said they had no personal relationship and Rana had never played any role in the Liberal riding association or campaigns.
Two days before the October 2019 federal election, Rana posted a photo on Facebook showing Holland’s campaign poster. “Vote for Mark Holland (Best MP of Canada),” read the post.
Photos on social media also show Rana at the Brampton office of Liberal MP Ruby Sahota in July 2018. In an August 2018 photo, Rana is seen standing beside Sahota at a fundraising gala.
Elections Canada records show that Sahota’s Brampton North Federal Liberal Association received a $356 donation from an Md. Rana in July 2018. The postal code of the donor matches that of the SJ71 office in Ajax.
The Liberal party said it only accepted contributions from donors who made an affirmation confirming they are citizens or permanent residents. Sahota’s office said the two never discussed Rana’s immigration status and the money would be returned.
Records also show a $1,500 donation to the federal NDP in October 2015 from an Md. Rana with the same Pickering area code as Rana’s home. The NDP said donors must affirm they are citizens or permanent residents.
Rana did not respond to questions about the donations.
While he was still trying to secure a work permit, Rana was photographed in 2018 with Canada’s Minister of Immigration at the time, Ahmed Hussen. The Liberal MP’s office said the minister referred those who approached him to their local MPs and did not discuss individual cases.
In May 2018, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, then the Liberal MP for Whitby, posted a photo of Rana on Twitter. Caesar-Chavannes has since left federal politics and said she had only posed for photos with Rana when they met at events.
Rana can also be seen with more than a half-dozen Conservative and Liberal Ontario MPPs and cabinet ministers, and photos on social media show what is described as his 2016 visit to the office of the premier.
Provincial records show a $357 donation to the Ontario Liberal Party in Ajax in 2018 by a Tarekh Rana. Ontario law does not require donors to provincial parties be citizens or permanent residents of Canada.
Community booster, philanthropist, political donor
In remarkably short order, Rana gained a reputation as Mr. Ajax, a man on a mission to bring investment and jobs to fast-growing Durham, which he thought had untapped potential.
Those who befriended him found him humble and generous.
His company sponsored Canadian Asian Fashion Week, and the Durham Caribbean Festival. He gave oversized cheques representing $10,000 and $7,500 donations to the Grandview Children’s Centre.
When SJ71 won an award from the Town of Ajax for the second year running in 2018, the Durham Citizen newspaper published a photo of Rana accepting the plaque from a town official.
The town even promoted him on its municipal website in March, in a feature article that showed him with Mayor Shaun Collier. The post, which called Rana a “visionary,” was taken down last week.
“Business builds community,” Rana opined in a column promoting his G Centre business centre in the local newspaper, which identified him as an active member of the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade.
When Rana was caught over-spending on municipal election candidates in Ajax, he pleaded ignorance, telling the town’s Compliance Audit Committee he was unaware of the $5,000 limit.
The committee ultimately excused Rana, passing a motion recommending he not be charged.
“M.D. Tarekh Rana explained that he was a newcomer to Canada and that he had not made any political contributions before 2018,” the committee wrote.
Meanwhile, photos on Facebook showed Rana with his “friend” Patrick Brown, the former Ontario Conservative leader who made a successful 2018 run for mayor of Brampton.
The Brampton mayor’s office said Rana had no role in the election campaign and had not donated to Brown. “The mayor did not recognize Mr. Rana in the photos,” said his communications director, Gary Collins.
The RCMP’s screening investigation came to a close last December, when Rana was issued a work permit, he said. He said the RCMP probe was lengthy and thorough, and had cleared him. His immigration lawyer also said Rana had been cleared.
“This work permit took 2-1/2 years,” Rana said.
The RCMP, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency and Durham Police declined to comment on Rana’s case.
“It’s a sensitive issue and I’m facing problem,” Rana said.
He said if he really had a criminal background, he could have made a refugee claim in Canada “which would be so easy,” but he had not done so. He said he had invested a “handsome amount of money” in Canada, created jobs and paid taxes.
“I’ve been in this community for four, five years. I’m trying to do some good but I think there are people doesn’t like it and they are behind me and coming up with all this story,” he said.
“But I don’t know whom to blame. But I have been here five, six years. I am trying my level best day and night,” he added. “But I really struggle for 2-1/2 years because my face looks similar to this guy.”
“It’s a very similar face.”