Bangladeshi authorities delivered an arrest warrant on Monday against former Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha after accusing him of money-laundering and criminal breach of trust, a prosecutor said Monday.
Sinha, 68, left Bangladesh in October 2017, alleging he was pressured to resign after rebuffing requests from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other officials to change a key court ruling that overturned a constitutional amendment giving legislators the power to impeach judges.
“We sent the warrant order to S.K. Sinha’s ancestral home in Moulvibazar [town],” Mir Ahmed Ali Salam, an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) prosecutor, told BenarNews. “If he is not arrested, we will inform the court at its next date on Jan. 22.”
It was not immediately clear if Sinha was still in Canada, where he had requested political asylum. He told BenarNews in July last year that he had crossed the U.S. border in Fort Erie in Ontario after a six-hour drive from his brother’s home in New Jersey, where he and his wife were temporarily living.
On Monday, Sinha did not immediately return phone calls and text messages from BenarNews seeking comment.
Salam said Dhaka’s senior special judge court issued a warrant on Sunday for 11 people, including Sinha, alleging their involvement in money laundering and embezzlement.
All the accused have been listed in the charge sheet as fugitives, senior special judge K.M. Imrul Kayes told reporters.
But prosecutors would seek to try Sinha and the other defendants in absentia, Salam said.
The ACC lawsuit accused Sinha of conspiring with six officials of Farmers Bank, which has been renamed Padma Bank, and four bank clients to divert 40 million taka (U.S. $475,000) into the former chief justice’s bank account by using counterfeit credit documents.
If found guilty of violating the nation’s Money Laundering Prevention Act, the former chief justice could face up to 12 years in prison, Salam said. Sinha could also be sentenced to life behind bars if found guilty of criminal breach of trust, he said.
Sinha resigned as chief justice a month after he left the country for “personal reasons,” according to government officials at that time. He flew to Australia and then moved to Paterson, New Jersey, a 20-minute bus ride from New York City.
Sinha was the first Hindu to become Bangladesh’s chief justice.
With the filing of charges against him, Sinha became the Muslim-majority country’s first former chief justice to face prosecution since it gained independence in 1971, former law minister and Supreme Court senior lawyer Shafique Ahmed told BenarNews.
“The law is for all. So, he [Sinha] should face the trial,” Ahmed said.
But Khandker Mahbub Hossain, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, described the charges against Sinha as harassment.
“Most lawyers cannot accept the harassment against him in the pretext of a trial in this way,” Hossain told BenarNews. “Trying him through the ACC created the public perception that he’s a victim of harassment for opposing the government.”
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam rejected claims that the government was subjecting the former chief justice to harassment.
“It’s totally false that the government was harassing him,” Alam told BenarNews, referring to Sinha. “He committed crimes and the independent Anti-Corruption Commission started the proceedings against him.”
In July, Sinha said he committed no wrong as he accused Hasina of misusing the law.
“Contesting the case does not rise at all,” he told BenarNews in a phone interview from Canada. “I have not committed anything.”
He said he would not hire an attorney in Bangladesh to represent him.
“When I was sitting chief justice, I did not get justice,” he said. “How can I claim justice now?”