A Dhaka court on Tuesday sentenced fugitive former chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha – widely known as SK Sinha – to 11 years in prison on charges of embezzling bank loans and laundering the money.
This is the first time that a former chief justice has been sentenced for a criminal offence in the country.
Judge Sheikh Nazmul Alam of Dhaka Special Judge's Court-4 handed him four years for embezzling Tk4 crore from Farmers Bank – now Padma Bank – and seven years for laundering the money.
Lawyers said the former chief justice would have to serve seven years in prison as both the sentences under two separate sections of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Act would run concurrently.
Besides, the court fined Sinha Tk45 lakh on the two counts, and in case of a failure to pay the fine, he will have to stay behind bars for an additional six months.
The court also ordered the authorities to confiscate Tk78 lakh, which had already been frozen, in favour of the state.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said no one is above the law and added, "But it is not a happy day for the judiciary."
"Since he was engaged with the judiciary, I am not happy today at all," he told journalists at his office in the Bangladesh Secretariat after the verdict was pronounced. "But it is also true that he must be punished for doing wrong. The court has found him committing a crime and given the verdict."
The judge also sentenced eight other accused, including Mahbubul Haque Chishti – known as Babul Chishti – a former chairman of the audit committee of the then Farmers Bank, and AKM Shamim – a former managing director of the private lender, to different jail terms.
The court acquitted Mohammad Shahjahan, a businessman from Tangail, and Niranjan Chandra Saha as the charges brought against them were not proved.
In his observation in the 182-page judgment, the judge said that the loan was approved for the former chief justice in violation of the credit policy of the then Farmers Bank. It has also been proved that the money was siphoned off abroad.
Apart from the embezzlement case against Sinha, the ACC has not yet filed charge-sheets in 16 of the 18 cases filed over another Tk1,800 crore loan scandals of the then Farmers Bank.
Babul Chishti, AKM Shamim and Babul Chishti's son, daughter, wife, brother-in-law, and several officials of the bank are accused in the 18 cases.
According to the ACC lawyers, the graft watchdog filed the cases at different times between 2017 and last year but investigations into these cases are not over yet.
Although charge-sheets have so far been submitted in two of the cases, the trial has not started in the trial courts yet, they added.
The other convicts in the embezzlement case are Farmers Bank's first vice-president Swapan Kumar Roy, vice-president Md Lutful Haque and former SEVP Gazi Salahuddin, first vice-president Safiuddin Askari, Ranjit Chandra Saha and his wife Santri Roy.
AKM Shamim was jailed for four years and the rest, other than SK Sinha, were sentenced to three years in prison.
Of the convicts, SK Sinha, Ranjit Chandra Saha and Santri Roy are absconding.
Among the accused, Babul Chishti, who has been in jail, was produced in court during the pronouncement of the verdict.
Six other people on bail were also present at the time of the verdict. All seven were sent to jail after the verdict was pronounced.
The former chief justice applied for the loan in October 2016. On November 9, Tk4 crore was deposited in SK Sinha's account at the Supreme Court branch of Sonali Bank. In November, the money was transferred to his brother's account in another bank.
SK Sinha was sworn in as the 21st chief justice of the country on 17 January 2015.
Sinha was caught up in an unprecedented tug-of-war over the verdict relating to the repeal of the 16th amendment to the Constitution that left parliament with the power to remove Supreme Court judges.
There was also strong criticism from various quarters of the government. At the time, after taking leave, the then chief justice went abroad on 14 October 2017 and sent his resignation letter from there on 11 November.
On 10 July 2019, the ACC filed this case against 11 people, including SK Sinha.
According to various sources, the former chief justice has been living in Canada after spending some time in the US.
Apart from this embezzlement case, the ACC on 7 October sued SK Sinha for taking the allotment of a government plot of land by misusing his powers and accumulating assets illegally.
The case is under investigation.
The hearing of the arguments of the ACC and the accused in the embezzlement case ended on 14 September and the verdict was later set for 5 October. But the verdict was not announced on that day as Judge Sheikh Nazmul Alam was on leave.
Mohammad Ali Hossain, acting judge of Dhaka Special Judge's Court-4, set 21 October for the verdict. On that day, Judge Sheikh Nazmul Alam fixed November 9 for the verdict to be delivered.
ACC lawyer Mir Ahmed Ali Salam said 21 witnesses were produced in court on behalf of the ACC in the case and their testimony ended on 24 August.
On 9 December 2019, the ACC filed a charge-sheet against 11 people, including SK Sinha. On 13 August last year, the court framed charges against all the accused.