Trials related to cases in the much-talked-about bank scams have come to a halt, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a few cases, trials reached the final stage while judicial proceedings began for others around March this year when Covid-19 broke out, forcing the country to shut down all sectors and institutions, including courts.
The trials of three out of 11 cases against Hallmark over Sonali Bank's Tk3,500-crore loan scandal have already neared completion. As of March last, only a significant number of witnesses gave their statements in court.
In June 2018, the High Court directed the special court concerned to settle the three cases within six months.
Lawyers for the cases filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) say the pandemic has caused the court proceedings to come to a halt.
However, people concerned say these cases could be disposed of quickly by conducting court proceedings in compliance with health safety rules.
They also opine that the cases could be settled through virtual courts.
Trials of 3 cases against Hallmark at final stage
In the charge-sheet related to the imaginary Max Spinning Mills' loan scam case of about Tk526 crore, the testimony of 108 out of 200 witnesses has been completed so far.
In another embezzlement case of a deposit of over Tk474.35 crore to the account of Anwara Spinning Mills, 61 out of 130 witnesses have testified in the court thus far.
In the third case of more than Tk525.62 crore being skimmed by Hallmark managing director Tanvir Mahmud from the account of Max Spinning Mills, 61 out of 81 witnesses testified till March last.
Mahmud Hossain Jahangir, a representative of the ACC panel of lawyers handling the cases, said as most of the witnesses had testified in these cases, the allegations seemed to have been proven already. "So, trials will be little affected even if no other witness testifies in these three cases."
Jahangir further said the trials of these cases would have been over by now had the pandemic not broken out.
The ACC's chief prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan told The Business Standard that the High Court had directed the Special Judge Court-1 in June 2018 to settle the three cases within six months but they could not be disposed of even in two years.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said as the judge's court could not dispose of those cases within the stipulated timeframe, it provided explanations to the High Court twice, saying the delay had been caused because witnesses did not appear regularly.
"Courts across the country are closed due to the pandemic. As a result, it is not possible to settle the cases now. Once the court opens, it will be requested to dispose of the cases on a priority basis."
Another ACC lawyer, Mosharraf Hossain Kajal, told The Business Standard, "Cases filed by the ACC are tried in a special judge's court. Many more cases are being tried in this court, resulting in an increased pressure of cases on such courts."
Due to this reason, the trials of corruption cases are slow as in those of other cases, he added.
He also said the government or the law ministry could set up a special virtual court to expedite the disposal of the cases involving bank scams.
Status of other 8 cases against Hallmark
ACC lawyer Mahmud Hossain Jahangir said the three cases against Hallmark were the most-discussed ones and thus their trials were the most prioritised.
The court was hearing witnesses in the other 8 cases too, but the pandemic had affected the proceedings.
Meanwhile, people concerned said the Bangladesh Bank, too, had not shown any promptness to get those cases settled.
Former law minister Barrister Shafiq Ahmed said that at this time of the pandemic, the central bank should take initiatives so that the law ministry, in consultation with the Supreme Court, goes for appropriate steps to settle the cases.
However, no such move by the central bank was noticed amid the pandemic, he added.
Commenting on the issue, Bangladesh Bank Executive Director and spokesperson Sirajul Islam said the central bank was working hard to resolve these cases and had also held several discussions with the law ministry.
On a request by the ACC, the Supreme Court issued a circular on November 9, 2016, directing the relevant court to try the ACC's cases within 60 days on a priority basis.
The order was not implemented.
Retired district and sessions judge Syed Aminul Islam, the then registrar general of the Supreme Court, said corruption cases could be disposed of quickly if the Supreme Court's directives were properly implemented. The Supreme Court should also take steps to implement this order.
Some other important cases also held up
The ACC filed 12 cases against Bismillah Group, a manufacturer of terry towels, over loan fraud, money laundering and corruption involving around Tk1,200 crore.
Among them, a money laundering case was disposed of in 2018 where the Dhaka Special Judge's Court-10 sentenced the group's MD Khwaja Soleman Anwar Chowdhury, chairman Nawrin Hasib and 9 others each to 10 years in prison as well as imposed fines.
The same court is trying the other 11 cases.
ACC lawyer Mosharraf Hossain said evidence was being gathered in four of the 11 cases. "More than 10 witnesses have testified in each of them but there are more than 50 witnesses in each case."
The trial of five people, including former chairman of the audit committee of Farmers Bank (now Padma Bank) Mahbubul Haque Chishti and his wife, has not started yet.
The ACC submitted the charge-sheet in the case, filed with Gulshan Police Station in April 2014.
ACC lawyer Mosharraf Hossain said the court had not yet framed charges in the case, which has been pending in the Special Judge's Court-1.