August 16, 2009 / 1:50 PM / 11 years ago

Extortion raises Bangladesh food prices - minister

A worker carries a sack of rice at a farm in Dhaka April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj/Files

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh’s Food and Disaster Management Minister Abdur Razzaque on Sunday blamed soaring food and other commodity prices on widespread extortion by crime gangs in the transport sector.

“A foods laden truck driver has to pay illegal tolls up to 21,000 taka ($304) to different extortionist groups while travelling a distance of 400 km (250 miles),” he told a seminar.

“Such abuses are rampant especially on transports reaching the capital from northwestern regions of the country.”

He said truck drivers made up their losses from traders and traders, in turn, passed on the cost to consumers.

Razzaque said he had passed information on extortion to law enforcement agencies and urged them to address it aggressively.

Traders say extortionists are active on every route, stopping food trucks on the highways and exacting tolls.

“We must crush the extortionists ... but are unable to because police officers often favour them for a pay back. Also, crime gangs are sometimes backed by dishonest political leaders,” a senior official of the food ministry said.

The government is struggling to keep commodity prices down. It has cut or withdrawn duties on some commodities, including sugar.

Reporting by Nizam Ahmed; Editing by Anis Ahmed

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