Richard Benkin burst on the international political scene in 2003 as an impassioned advocate for the now discredited Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the self professed “Muslim Zionist.” As Choudhury’s star rose, so did Benkin’s. Thanks to Benkin’s promotion, the U.S. Congress in 2007 passed a resolution supporting Choudhury, and similar resolutions in Australia and the European Parliament were passed due to a surge of impassioned sentiment following Benkin’s Internet articles.
Choudhury received a cash award from the Prince of Monaco and many donations from around the world. Benkin made a name for himself as a speaker representing “heroic” Choudhury, demanding handsome fees. He acquired considerable political leverage which he now uses to appeal to oppressed Hindus in India and Bangladesh as their ostensible advocate in Congress.
But Benkin’s past is generally not well known, nor is his history of fraudulent activities.
Richard Benkin’s Scam Nursing Home
Benkin owned and administered a nursing home, the Lexington Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Illinois, that ran afoul of the law. He eventually lost his license. Despite receiving a good education, and a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. in sociology in 1976, Benkin failed in his field. He bought a disreputable facility with a history of health and safety violations — and elevated those violations to a higher level. A 2000 Chicago Tribune investigative series on Benkin revealed pervasive fraud, misrepresentation, abuse of patients’ rights, and maintenance of an environment seriously dangerous to highly vulnerable groups and individuals. One of its co-authors, Michael J. Berens, received a 2012 Pulitzer prize for a Seattle Times investigative series on elder abuse.
According to a report that Illinois government health investigators publicized, Benkin scoured the state for homeless people on whose accounts he could run up big tabs. He promised swimming pools and therapeutic horseback riding programs that did not exist. His facility lured young drug addicts with fraudulent promises of treatment and recreational activities. The facility had no such luxurious provisions since it was designed only for elderly people. Following Benkin’s acquisition, it left young addicts unsupervised, endangering both their safety and that of the elderly, sick patients. Out of control addicts, including some long time felons with lengthy rap sheets, abused alcohol and drugs and frequently destroyed property and attacked other residents. In least one case, one client stabbed another resident, according to the state health department report. Many agencies that Lexington pitched to filed formal complaints, all of which Benkin ignored. He continued to bill taxpayers – both federal (Medicare) and state (Medicaid) — for his gravely substandard facility.
In June 2000, the Illinois State Department of Professional Regulation alleged that Benkin had lured a homeless 27 year old female drug addict into his “care” so as to have sex with her. Finally, the state closed his crooked operation and in 2003 publicly announced the suspension of Benkin’s license. Unconcerned, Benkin flatly denies all wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, the public account exists: Benkin posed as a beneficent good Samaritan helping people in need — the elderly, sick, homeless, and drug addicted. Under the aegis of serial misrepresentations and untruths, he played on the misplaced trust of weak and vulnerable people — and agencies established at taxpayer expense to help them — apparently only for his personal sexual and monetary benefit.
Benkin’s Promotion Of Huckster Shoaib Choudhury
Now consider Benkin’s support for the purportedly martyred hero, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. The year 2003 was a pivotal one for both Choudhury and Benkin. Each had been disgraced. Both had run out of income. Choudhury was facing charges of embezzlement from his Islamist employers. Previously a fierce Islamist himself, Choudhury alleged that he now faced death threats from his angry newspaper bosses. And he had a reduced cash flow. He dealt with both by reversing course and promoting himself as an anti-Islamist. Overnight.
Until then, Choudhury worked for Abdul Mannan, a kingpin of the 1971 Bangladesh massacre and a key Pakistani army collaborator during the Bangladesh Liberation war that nationalists fought to free their country from fundamentalism. Mannan conveyed kidnapped girls to invading Pakistani troops as sex slaves. He raped and killed other women, stole property, and burned houses to the ground. He especially targeted intellectual and professional people who opposed his politics. According to a New York Times report, he confessed to gouging out the eyes of Alim Choudhury, a prominent eye surgeon whom he then killed. After the war, Mannan started the Inquilab newspaper, considered the official Muslim fundamentalist media. Inquilab (meaning ‘Revolution,’ one word used throughout Islamdom to call for jihad and sharia) was funded by fundamentalist Jammat Islami, which incited religious riots and the persecution of freedom loving journalists and academics. Jammat Islami follows the Muslim Brotherhood model of Hasan al Banna. Rejecting democratic values, Mawdudi embraced fascism. At one point, Inquilab issued a reward for the death of an anti-Islamist professor, Dr Ahmed Sharif, mirroring Iran’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Choudhury worked at Inquilab from 2001 to 2002, according to his resume on Benkin’s blog.
Choudhury’s resume also boasts of his role as founder and managing director of A-21 TV, the first Bangladesh private television channel — and his surviving imprisonment and torture for “sedition.” It omits, however, that the purported Muslim Zionist’s “sedition” did not oppose Islamism or jihad. Rather, Choudhury associated with war criminals like Delwar Hossain Saidi. The latter, for example, compared Hindus to excrement. Saidi said people should no more mourn Hindus fleeing the country than they would, “Mourn when we have indigestion and materials leave our body.” Choudhury outdid even Saidi, however, when he initiated a cyber-campaign to kill Prime Minister Hasina Wajed and her family. A senior police officer, who requested anonymity, traced emails demanding Hasina’s death to Choudhury and ordered his arrest. The Choudhury resume also neglects to note the criminal record of his A-21 TV partner and financier, Aziz Mohammed Bhai, a Mafia style mobster charged with international smuggling, drug dealing, and embezzling large sums from banks. Bhai is now a fugitive from the law.
Additionally, Bhai was a vehement Islamist. In 1998, long after the Bangladesh War of Independence ended, Bhai murdered its the leading movie actor as an apostate, both for abandoning Islam, andfor openly criticizing war criminals responsible for atrocities against Bengalis. Choudhury worked closely with Bhai during that period. Some would even allege that through his deep involvement with Islamists his people, Choudhury drenched his own hands in blood.
His resume, however, plays upon naïve Western expectations that Choudhury’s previous imprisonment resulted from service of high ideals as a champion of Western freedoms. But by engineering his second, 2003 arrest, Choudhury merely lead the world to believe in a totally fraudulent persona.
Despite what we now know of Choudhury’s complete disrepute, Benkin has maintained the misleading resume on his blog, where he also splashes Choudhury’s name across a banner on the home page. The resume is written in perfect English and is well organized, differing from Choudhury’s primitive writing style, to be further discussed later. Did Benkin help Choudhury construct his duplicitous resume? By deadline, he had failed to answer an email inquiry on that point.
Benkin stated in a 2011 telephone interview with this reporter that he and Choudhury had linked up via the Internet. He claimed to reach out to Choudhury when the latter opened a blog called the WeeklyBlitz and started writing pro Israel articles.
Choudhury achieved celebrity status – apparently by strategically planning his own arrest in Bangladesh. His ruse was a pretense of trying to travel to Israel — travel he knew well in advance that his country prohibited — for a media conference. He then circulated the story of his airport arrest worldwide. That event immediately earned Choudhury sympathy and support as a journalist martyred while supporting Israel and free speech.
Prior to the incident, Choudhury had reached out to Israeli conference organizer, Dr. Ada Aharoni, an internationally published writer who received a prestigious award from Simon Peres on September 4, 2012 for promoting peace initiatives through literature. Choudhury requested an invitation from Dr. Aharoni to speak at the 2003 event. That formality in hand, Choudhury then ensured that Bangladeshi officials learned of his pending departure — and orchestrated publicity that in effect provoked his own arrest. He told Dr. Aharoni that he had informed Bangladesh officials of his planned departure and enlisted her help to contact Israeli officials to arrange a visa. Dr. Aharoni now reports to this writer that Choudhoury duped her into helping him launch his frauds. Naturally, she is angry.
As noted previously, Choudhury clearly knew that Bangladesh banned travel to Israel. Obviously, it would therefore have made the most sense to keep his planned trip quiet. However, he virtually shouted his “intentions” from his nation’s minarets. Moreover, he carried provocative documents that he easily could have scanned into a computer and emailed to Israel.
When he was arrested, Choudhury wore a huge, smug smile. In addition to publicizing his illegal trip and holding material offensive to his government, he also apparently arranged for an associate to photograph and document his arrest and “martyrdom.” He counted on Dr. Aharoni’s sympathies to further publicize his “plight” after his co-conspirator emailed her the photo. She thus fell into Choudhury’s self-aggrandizing trap.
Choudhury sent Dr. Aharoni a flood of letters asking her to write to everyone she knew to help free him. She obliged. Then Benkin stepped in. He informed Dr. Ahroni that he would handle Choudhury’s crisis going forward.
After clearing the stage of Dr. Aharoni, Benkin immediately publicized the Airport Drama. He wrote article after article on this seemingly brave and unfairly imprisoned and tortured friend to the Jewish people. He claimed that Choudhury faced execution for trying to visit Israel — although Bangladesh fined him only $8.00 and the charges were not pursued. Soon a large segment of the Jewish world rose up in protest, granting Choudhury full support — again — all through the Internet. But Choudhury’s purported abuse — minor, at that — was entirely his own creation.
Legions of Jewish writers, still in shock from the attacks of 9/11 and hoping to discover a Muslim friend somewhere, anywhere, rose in Choudhury’s defense following Benkin’s lead. All information rested on Benkin’s written assertions. He was trusted — foolishly, in hindsight — simply by virtue of his Jewish persuasion.
Benkin’s Multiple Deceptions About His Relationship With Choudhury
Regarding Choudhury, Benkin’s many untruths have now been exposed. In a November 2010 interview with Washington Bangla Radio (subsequently deleted from the internet), Benkin claimed that in 2003 he had barely known Choudhury and was surprised to learn of his arrest.
In contradiction, however, Benkin in a June 15, 2011 phone interview told this reporter, that while the 2003 speech Choudhury had been scheduled to deliver in Israel appears under his name, he (Benkin) personally wrote it. He also wrote a Nov. 16, 2003 op-ed in The Daily Star, the largest English language newspaper in Bangladesh, arguing for a change in national policy towards Israel, less than two weeks before Choudhury’s Nov. 29 planned departure. The timing certainly suggests that theirs was a coordinated effort. While the overt sentiment was laudable—not unlike purporting to care for sick people in a nursing home — Benkin nevertheless seems deceptively to have claimed he had not known Choudhury well.
An Oct. 2003 essay, ostensibly by Choudhury, also reads more like the polished, somewhat academic style of Benkin, not the fractured English of Choudhury. Following, please find a sample paragraph from the 2003 article:
We must admit that most of the people of Bangladesh still lack the opportunity for modern, scientific education and are therefore open to persuasion by religious extremists. In recent years there has been a strong upsurge in activities of religious extremist groups in a number of countries, including Bangladesh. Recently, law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh have captured members of quite a number of such groups in various parts of the country. These were operating under the umbrella of “Islamic Kindergarten Madrassas” or madrassas financed by Afro-Arab organizations. Islamic Kindergarten Madrassas are supposed to be innocent institutions where young boys learn the elements of Islamic faith, but these madrassas have a different program.
The style of a paragraph from Benkin’s blog appears identical.
Since beginning my efforts to save the Hindus of Bangladesh from that nation’s “quiet case of ethnic cleansing,” the major thrusts of my efforts have been designed to bring this human rights atrocity to the attention of many and gain credibility for my own actions. While much work still remains in that respect, we have made tremendous strides in having the issue recognized by people heretofore unaware of what is happening to Hindus in Bangladesh and how it is part of the greater movement of international jihad; 2013 can be the year in which Bangladesh’s leaders are forced to decide between the following two options: either stop enabling and tacitly approving of the ethnic cleansing of Hindus; or face exposure of your murderous duplicity and crippling sanctions.
Now consider Choudhury’s style as of June 12, 2012, without benefit of Benkin’s grammatical polish.
“According to an intelligence reports, Bangladesh Awami League, which got a sweeping majority in the December 2008 general election, is destined to facing massive electoral catastrophe, while at least 150 seats, which are currently held by the ruling party men are going to slip away from their grips. It may be mentioned here that, Bangladesh Awami League got 266 seats during the 2008 election, thus giving it the huge command over the National Parliament. But such huge popularity or mandate of the voters in favor of the ruling party started getting dented when the student’s wing of Bangladesh Awami League established reign of terror in most of the campuses in the country, within weeks of the formation of government by the ruling party.”
Equally important, the purported, self-described human rights activist Choudhury has heavily incorporated his former hatred of the Awami League — the sole Bangladesh political party standing for educational, economic, political and social equanimity for Hindus. As this writer noted previously, in 1999 his government imprisoned Choudhury for his cyber campaign (fortunately unsuccessful) inciting the murder of the Awami League leader.
Again, Benkin claims not to have known Choudhury very well in 2003. But his actions indicate that he knew Choudhury quite well, well enough to write a speech for him and an op-ed promoting his putative cause. In short, Benkin very possibly helped Choudhury engineer his own 2003 arrest and rise to international fame.
Bangladeshi-American anti-Islamist activist Jamal Hasan reported that Benkin told him he had verified Choudhury’s resume. In particular, Benkin cited to Hasan, in a 2007 email, Choudhury’s prior work for the former USSR news agency, Tass,
“As to my brother, Shoaib, I did quite a lot of homework. …People point to repeated allegations [against him] as if to say they are evidence of some sort of truth. With respect to Shoaib, those I have investigated are not. For instance, he has provided names and dates for the Tass employment, which I have checked out correct.” (sic)
In June 2011 Tass ([email protected]) spokeswoman Lora Potopova confirmed in an email and subsequent phone conversation with this reporter that the wire service never had a bureau in Bangladesh, and had no record of employ for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury — as a stringer or otherwise. Potopova reported that her thorough search of all Tass branches found no trace of Choudhury or a Tass office in Bangladesh. In short, when he claimed to have vetted Choudhury’s history with Tass, Benkin lied. The only open question: Had Benkin learned the truth, but lied anyway?
“I had quite a few telephone conversations with [Benkin] regarding the SC issue before I met Benkin on Capitol Hill,” Hasan wrote in a recent email to this investigator. Hasan continued,
“I tried to convince him in many ways that SC could not be trusted. He was continuously defending this con man. Benkin definitely knew all along he was promoting a devil. Benkin even compared SC with Walid Shoebat. In reality SC is not even equal to Walid’s foot… Benkin is simply a low life creature not better than SC.” (emphasis added.)
Jamal Hasan is one of several distinguished Bangladeshi American activists contacted during investigations for this piece. Like others in his esteemed circle, he repeatedly tried to warn Benkin that Choudhury was a phony. Promoting Choudhury would be “a disaster down the road, akin to setting up Osama bin Laden as a humanist,” one respected Hindu American professor warned Benkin, who brushed him off. Indeed, each source reports, to a man, that Benkin literally and publicly turned his back on them and rudely and maliciously arranged to silence their voices at a key conference.
Benkin not only refused to learn from Bengali natives familiar with Choudhury, his past and the country with which he was newly involved. He also ignored a many Bangladeshi free thinkers and anti-Islamists, including Mukto-Mona and Faith Freedom writers — none of them previously Islamists, unlike Choudhury. According to a Bangladeshi journalist, almost every major newspaper in Bangladesh routinely writes against militant Islam and the issue of establishing relations with Israel is discussed in many publications in Bangladesh. Benkin infuriated all his genuine free thinking Muslim contacts there, however, by conversely and broadly presenting Choudhury as the only Muslim in that Bangladesh who did not hate Jews and Christians.
While Choudhury likes to hold himself out as the only Muslim Zionist in the world, it just is not so. A group called the International Council of the Root and Branch Association was established under Italian Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi in 1997, back when Choudhury was busy being an Islamist. Choudhury joined the group but was ejected when his defrauding of two of his followers came to light.
Again in hindsight, Benkin can only have intended his deception to make his interactions with Choudhury appear spectacular. The duo duped mainstream media. They posed as heroes, and raked in dozens of news mentions — and in their wake, speaking engagements and money.
Benkin ignored complaints that his golden boy was lewd and larcenous. Celine Leduc, the first to mount an Internet petition to free Choudhury, in 2005 informed Benkin that Choudhury insisted on cyber sex with her. Benkin scoffed at her objections and responded, “He’s my brother.” Similarly, when this writer reported that Choudhury had swindled a huge sum, Benkin replied, “Just don’t try to break us up. My career began in 2003 [with Shoaib].” (emphasis added) Indeed, Benkin did begin his career with Shoaib’s arrest; without it he would simply have been an insurance salesman and a disgraced, former owner of a dangerous unlicensed Medicaid/Medicare mill.
A Hindu writer claims that Benkin has entered the racket of extorting Hindus.
“…Dr. Benkin is continuing extortion in India in the name of his works [for] Bangladeshi Hindus and migrated Hindus in India. … since 2007, Dr. Benkin has collected more than 50 thousand dollars from Hindus in India with the promise of raising their issues with US Congress, Senate and other high offices. Poor and destitute Hindus were even seen offering money to Dr. Benkin by selling their lands, as Benkin [had] promised … them [to get back] their [confiscated] properties back…Bangladesh government, … [seized] in 1947 under Vested Property Act. Dr. Benkin is making money by selling his contacts with a few American Congress and Senate members. He also is collecting huge amount of extortion from Hindus in West Bengal through a number of [his personally appointed] agents… Such illegal activities by this American are continuing under the umbrella of Interfaith Strength and [Benkin’s] Forcefield.” (emphasis added.)
The Choudhury – Benkin team broke up in September, 2010; Choudhury accused the latter of extorting poor Hindus to “help” them — and owing him a large sum for publishing Benkin’s book. Similarly, Benkin suggested that Choudhury’s purportedly ongoing trial had been dropped. Choudhury then denounced Benkin in his newspaper. Did, perhaps, the idealistic “brothers” split over money?
Increasingly, the self-styled “Muslim Zionist” who catapulted Benkin to temporary fame appears a complete fraud, dangerous to our national security. Choudhury has perpetrated numerous crimes. In March 2010, his swindle of at least two female Jewish supporters earned Choudhury a New York City charge of Grand Larceny via Fraud. He wrote a counterfeit check, maintains a website flagged as a scam, and publishes Islamist articles, readily available for all to read. Worse, Choudhury’s online Weekly Blitz has published some 100 articles containing North Korean propaganda. Choudhury’s criminal activities include extortion of Dominica’s Prime Minister. Choudhury also bolsters his gross income through an online East Asia brothel and escort service guide. Never mind that, in 2003, the free world rushed to protect Chourdhury and his newspaper as genuine human rights advocates.
Only via Benkin’s promotion did Choudhury, previously a small time Bangladesh crook, gain the opportunity and means to inflict enormous harm on international victims.
Did Benkin Know About Choudhury’s Frauds?
Given Benkin’s prior involvement in shady enterprise — the con-driven Lexington Nursing & Rehabilitation Center — very likely Benkin recognized Choudhury as a con man. If so, also in keeping with abuses of nursing home clients and taxpayers funding their inadequate care — did Benkin knowingly sponsor Choudhury for personal gain?
After all, Benkin previously played the hero to vulnerable souls – first homeless, drug addicted and elderly people. Then to fellow Jews, through support of a fraudulent “Muslim Zionist.” Now, he plays “hero” to impoverished Hindus, allegedly bilking them of grand sums they can little afford.
Clearly, Hindus in Bangladesh and India richly deserve relief from relentless Islamic persecution. Their plight surely deserves more attention. But whether Richard Benkin is a genuinely helpful person – who will not exploit them – is an inescapable question. Clearly, his activities should be investigated.
Brenda West is a freelance writer who has followed the Choudhury story for some time. She can be reached at [email protected]