Bangladesh Ex-Chief Justice Rejects Corruption Charges

Roni Toldanes
190711_ACC_SK_Sinha_620.JPG Surendra Kumar Sinha, then the chief justice of Bangladesh, answers questions from reporters in front of his home in Dhaka before leaving for Australia, Oct. 13, 2017.

Former Bangladeshi Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha said Thursday he would not defend himself against corruption charges filed by the government, saying he committed no wrong and that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration was misusing the law.

The nation’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Sinha, accusing him and 10 others of money laundering and embezzling funds.

“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 because “the allegation does not disclose any offense” against him.

“When I was sitting chief justice, I did not get justice. How can I claim justice now?” Sinha said.

Sinha, 68, left Bangladesh in October 2017 amid claims that he was pressured to resign after refusing requests by Hasina and other senior government officials to change a key court ruling on judicial independence.

The lawsuit against Sinha marked the first time in the nation’s history that an acting or former chief justice had been charged with a criminal offense.

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.

But Sinha, who was temporarily in Canada with his wife to visit their daughter on Thursday, rejected the allegations.

“It’s unethical, unfair. They wanted to denude me [of public esteem],” Sinha said, referring to Hasina’s government.

“That is the crux of the case. The government will use the law in their own hands. … They wanted to humiliate me,” he added.

Mohammad Delwar Bakth, the ACC secretary, told BenarNews that the charges were filed under the Money Laundering Prevention Act-2012 and Corruption Prevention Act-1947.

“We have filed the corruption case against former Chief Justice S.K. Sinha on charges of misappropriating and laundering money,” Bakth said.

DGFI: ‘Not our job to threaten anybody’

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.

But in his book, “A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights & Democracy,” Sinha claimed that the chief of the country’s military intelligence agency told him to resign or businessman Aniruddha Roy, his friend who was then reported missing, would suffer “serious consequences.”

Unidentified men abducted Roy in front of a bank in Dhaka on Aug. 27, 2017, according to his driver. Three months later, his wife told reporters that he was back home, but she declined to disclose details about his captivity or exactly when he was released.

On Thursday, during his interview with BenarNews, Sinha reiterated what he wrote in his memoir, alleging that Maj. Gen. Mohammad Saiful Abedin, director general of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), came to his office when he was still the Supreme Court chief justice.

“I have come here per direction of the prime minister. Whatever I would say, take it as direction of the prime minister,” Sinha quoted Abedin as saying.

In September last year, after Sinha’s book came out, DGFI spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Tanvir Mazhar Siddiqui, told BenarNews that he was trying to obtain a copy of it.

“However, on behalf of the organization, I can say it clearly that it is not our job to threaten anybody,” he told BenarNews. “DGFI never does it.”

In his book, Sinha described how military officers presented him with a resignation letter that he was supposed to sign at an airport in Singapore in 2017, and handed him a phone. On the other end of the line, he said he was astonished to hear the voice of his friend, Roy, who had gone missing 81 days.

About three months before that incident, he said, the president’s military secretary had summoned him to what turned out to be a four-hour meeting with Prime Minister Hasina and other top officials.

He claimed that Hasina wanted him to resign as chief justice after he rejected her request in July 2017 to give legislators the power to dismiss judges.

In its 799-page ruling on July 3, 2017, the Supreme Court said that giving the legislature or executive branch the power to remove justices would hamper the basic structure of the constitution, which requires equal separation of powers among the three branches of government.

The threat of impeachment proceedings would subject judges to exploitation by politicians, Sinha then said in his ruling.

Sinha wrote in his book that he feared military authorities might not only kill Roy, but also “members of my family.”

In September last year, Attorney-General Mahbubey Alam denied that the government had pressured Sinha to rule in favor of the government.

“Justice S.K. Sinha has written the book based on his wild imagination, not on facts,” Alam told Al Jazeera. “There is no need to take this book seriously."

Law Minister Anisul Huq had also earlier dismissed Sinha’s claims.

“The government has no involvement with the S.K. Sinha issue,” Huq told reporters last year. “It is absolutely wrong [to claim] that the government forced him go abroad.”

Bad sign, says ex-chief of Bar Association

The unprecedented filing of charges against a former chief justice was “not a good sign for the country,” Zainul Abedin, former president of Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association, told BenarNews.

“My opinion is: the corruption charge against former Chief Justice S.K. Sinha is a threat to Bangladesh’s judicial system,” he said.

“S.K. Sinha himself told journalists that the government forced him to leave the country; he did not leave Bangladesh willingly,” Abedin said, emphasizing that Sinha had tried to save the country’s judicial system from “pressure from different agencies.”


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