A Dhaka court has opened the trial of former chief justice SK Sinha and 10 others on charges of loan fraud and embezzlement of Tk 40 million from the Farmers Bank.
Judge Sheikh Nazmul Alam of Dhaka's Special Judge Court No.4 on Thursday framed the charges against Sinha in absentia and fixed Aug 16 for recording witness testimonies.
Mahbubul Haque Chisty alias Babul Chishti, the former chairman of Farmers Bank's audit committee who is also accused in the case, was brought to the court from jail for the hearing, bdnews24.com reported.
KM Shamim, former managing director of Farmers Bank, renamed Padma Bank, and its former senior executive vice president Gazi Salauddin, both of whom secured bail in the case, also attended the hearing.
Ruhul Islam Khan, the lawyer for the Anti-Corruption Commission, read out the charges to the three accused, all of whom pleaded not guilty.
Their lawyers also appealed for the charges to be dropped against them but the judge framed the charges against the 11, including the eight absconding suspects, and ordered the initiation of the trial.
The ACC started the case against Sinha and the 10 others on Jul 10, 2019.
In October 2018, ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmood said the commission had found ‘evidence’ of fraud involving transactions of Tk 40 million borrowed by two so-called businessmen, Shahjahan and Niranjan, from Farmers Bank.
The national antigraft agency later launched an investigation into allegations that the fund was deposited in Sinha’s bank account, credited as the proceeds of the sale of his house.
Sinha came under fire from the ruling Awami League over the verdict on the 16th amendment to the constitution and left the country on leave in October, 2017.
Later, he became the first chief justice of the country to quit when he submitted his resignation from overseas, 81 days before the end of his term.
After his resignation, the Supreme Court said in a rare statement that Sinha had been facing 11 specific charges, including corruption, money laundering, financial irregularities and moral blunder.
The government has appealed for a review of the verdict cancelling the 16th constitutional amendment, which allows the MPs to remove any top judge on the grounds of incompetency or misconduct.
THE ACC CASE
The graft-busters have brought charges against Sinha and others under the Penal Code, the Prevention of Corruption Act, and the Money Laundering Prevention Act.
According to the case documents, Shahjahan and Niranjan opened separate accounts in the bank’s Gulshan branch on Nov 6, 2016 and applied for Tk 20 million in loans each on the following day.
They used the address of a building owned by Sinha in Dhaka’s Uttara to open the accounts and apply for the loans.
The duo also mentioned a 32 decimal piece of land owned by Ranajit’s wife Shanti as the property against which they sought the loans.
The couple were acquaintances of Sinha and close to him, according to the case.
Ranajit is Niranjan’s uncle and Shahjahan’s friend, the ACC says.
The ACC alleges that the then MD of the bank, Shamim, approved the loans without any scrutiny in breach of its rules and by abusing powers.
The loans had been approved “abnormally fast”, a day after the applications were filed on Nov 7 that year.
Two pay orders worth Tk 40 million were issued for Sinha and money was deposited to his account in Sonali Bank’s Supreme Court branch on Nov 9.
The money was withdrawn through cash transactions, cheques and pay orders later.
On Nov 28, about Tk 22.36 million was transferred to an account of the former chief justice’s brother at the Uttara branch of Shahjalal Bank through two cheques.
Ranajit used the influence of Sinha for quick approval of the loans by presenting Niranjan and Shahjahan as the borrowers but the two were very poor and never involved in any business, according to the case.
The loan has not been repaid yet, the ACC said in the case and added: “SK Sinha misled the other accused through Ranajit to get papers signed.”
Justice Sinha, who has denied the allegations of corruption, said in a book published from the US last year that the government had ‘exiled’ him and that he had resigned in the face of intimidation and threats.
He said at the launch of the book in Washington that he was living in the US as a refugee and sought asylum.
The media in Bangladesh reported that his brother Ananta Kumar Sinha bought a house in New Jersey.
The ACC then launched an investigation into allegations of money laundering against the former chief justice’s brother.
ACC spokesman Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya said at the time that Ananta Sinha allegedly bought a three-storey, 4,000 square feet house for $280,000, laundered money abroad, and amassed a significant amount of wealth illegally.
Justice Sinha is also accused of corruption, abuse of power, and bribery in a case started by former BNP leader and lawyer Nazmul Huda, who is known to be close to the ruling Awami League now.