Crores stuck in pending cases
- Trial proceedings of 202 corruption cases filed between 1998 and 2008 remain halted because of HC stay orders on them
- ACC says Tk11,000 crore has got stuck in these pending litigations
- 2,931 cases of embezzlement, money laundering, and amassing wealth beyond known sources of income pending until December 2020
- Around Tk60,000 crore has got stuck in these cases
In 2000, the then Anti-Corruption Bureau sued four people, including Omar Faruque, a former manager at Agrani Bank's Motijheel branch, for allegedly swindling around Tk7 crore out of the bank.
But the trial of the case has not started even in the past 20 years, with the High Court having stayed its trial proceeding in October that year following a writ petition filed by the accused.
Another case filed by the anti-graft watchdog against Mokammel Haque, the then sub-registrar of Dhaka's Tejgaon Zone in 1998, for illegally registering a government land worth Tk41 crore in a person's name is yet to see its trial resume as the HC stay order still remains in force.
Trial proceedings of 202 such corruption cases filed between 1998 and 2004 during the Anti-Corruption Bureau's tenure have remained stopped because of HC stay orders on them.
In 2004, the Anti-Corruption Bureau was abolished and Anti-Corruption Commission was formed to strengthen fight against grafts. But the situation has not improved.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) says some Tk11,000 crore has got stuck in the pending litigations. ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan said, "We will soon appeal to the High Court, seeking cancellation of the stay orders on these old cases."
The ACC stats paint a dismal picture of a very slow pace in disposing of various corruption cases.
In 2020, not a single case was settled in the Appellate Division, only four cases were disposed of in the High Court and the number of cases resolved in trial courts is 155, according to the ACC data.
As of December 2020, there were 2,931 pending cases in connection with money embezzlement, money laundering, and amassing wealth beyond known sources of income. Around Tk60,000 crore has got stuck in such litigations.
Only 5.2% of the cases were disposed of that year, according to the ACC statistics.
Yet, the anti-graft watchdog claimed that it had been successful in resolving cases as expected.
It claimed in 2020, the accused were convicted in 71.61% of the cases on completion of trials. The then ACC chairman Iqbal Mahmood termed it a great success of the organisation while making statements before the media at different times.
Not just last year, The Business Standard's investigation has found that settlement of corruption cases in trial courts have been very low every year over a decade from January 2009 to December 2020.
Expressing concern about the "low disposal rate", legal experts have called it "surprising".
They say the ACC itself is largely responsible for this low case settlement rate. Courts cannot avoid their liabilities too.
Jurist Shahdeen Malik told TBS that it takes years for the ACC to investigate a case after filing them.
There is a law to govern the ACC. But the question is how much that law means to the ACC itself. There are many big cases and their investigations have been delayed for five-seven years on various pretexts. This is where trials hit stumbling blocks, he added.
ACC Secretary Dr Md Anwar Hossain Howlader told TBS that settling a case is totally under the jurisdiction of courts. ACC legal officers handle ACC cases in courts. The ACC has taken various steps for the speedy disposal of these cases.
"The rate of case settlement is a little lower than that of filing cases. We have no hesitation in admitting it. We are taking some new steps. We will soon discuss with the law ministry and the chief justice for the speedy disposal of cases," he also said.
"I hope the rate of case settlement will increase this year over last year and its preceding year," he added.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), described the disposal rate of ACC cases as "pathetic". "The ACC has always been campaigning for success mentioning the case disposal rate and the conviction rate of the accused. It is not clear how they are actually claiming this."
He said the ACC is not as diligent in resolving cases as it is in filing those. "They think their job is done just by filing cases."
Dr Iftekharuzzaman went on to say that the ACC's weakness is largely responsible for the non-disposal of cases. "This is because the ACC's panel of lawyers barely has any good quality lawyer in it. What is more, most of the layers working with the commission run cases in a case-by-case contract arrangement. Only a few work full time and are salaried."
Besides, ACC cases are tried in a special judge's courts, which also have a shortage of judges and manpower, he observed.
ACC chief lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan, however, opposed the claim that the disposal rate of ACC cases is low. He also noted that ACC cases are being disposed of in greater numbers compared to other cases.
"However, many corrupt people are securing stay orders by filing writ petitions or revision pleas in the HC. This is the main obstacle to the settlement of cases in trial courts," he further added.
According to ACC sources, the trial in 436 cases has been stayed by the HC.
Bigger cases have lower disposal rate
None of the 11 cases filed against Hallmark in connection with Sonali Bank's Tk3,500 crore loan scam has been settled in the last eight years.
ACC lawyers said the HC in 2018 issued directives twice to settle these cases within six months but they were not complied with.
The ACC has filed 12 cases against Bismillah Group over allegations of Tk1,200 crore loan fraud, money laundering and corruption. The trial of these cases has been going on since 2014.
TBS has a list of ACC cases that have been disposed of in the last 10 years. According to the list, a case filed against agriculturalist Jabed Iqbal over embezzlement of Tk60 crore from a project in the past BNP regime was settled in a judicial court in 2016.
Even though a case filed against the high-ups of multi-level marketing (MLM) company UniPay2U on allegations of money laundering after swindling customers out of around Tk3,000 crore was disposed of in 2011, it has been pending in the HC.
On the other hand, a trial in a case filed against the much-talked-about MLM company Destiny over misappropriation of Tk3,285 crore of investors' money has been going on since 2012.
According to the statistics of the ACC, although 3,375 cases were disposed of in between January 2009 and December 2020, the rate of disposal of significant and much-discussed cases is very low.
Iqbal Mahmud, who has left the ACC recently after taking over the charge as its chairman in 2016, claimed that a large number of cases were settled during his five years in office.
He told TBS, "For those 5 years, we made efforts for fast disposal of cases. To this end, the prosecution team was reshuffled and various initiatives were taken to speed up the investigation. Some more initiatives were taken, which if implemented by the new chairman will further accelerate the trial process."
Cases stuck in investigation
The much-discussed case of embezzlement of Tk4,500 crore from Sonali Bank has been under investigation for the last seven years.
Although the High Court has expressed concerns over this several times, the investigation is not getting pace.
Crescent Group has embezzled Tk3,443 crore from Janata Bank in the name of loan. Of this, around Tk1,000 crore has been smuggled abroad. The kingpins of this racket are Crescent Group Chairman MA Quader and his brother Abdul Aziz, owner of Jazz Multimedia.
The ACC filed four cases in February 2019 over the incident, but could not file a charge sheet in any of these cases so far.
Sonali Soda Factory embezzled Tk14.27 crore by evading value-added tax (VAT) between 2000 and 2003.
Nur Uddin, the proprietor of the factory in connivance with nine officials of the Tejgaon Circle of Customs Excise and VAT, including the then superintendents Sirajul Haque and Abul Khair embezzled the money.
In this connection, a case was filed in 2004. The investigation of this case has been pending for 15 years. The accused filed a writ petition in the HC in November 2019 and secured a stay order on the investigation.
ACC sources say about 1,800 cases involving Tk20,000 crore are currently being investigated.
The ACC has not been able to even file a charge sheet after completing investigations into 61 cases filed in connection with the Tk4,500 crore BASIC Bank loan scam – in what is deemed as the biggest financial sector fraud in the country – in the last seven years.
In addition to these cases, 453 more cases filed for swindling about Tk12,000 crore out of various banks and financial institutions have been pending year after year.
ABM Khairul Haque, former chief justice and incumbent chairman of the Law Commission, said according to Section 20 of the ACC Act-2004, appropriate steps have to be taken to complete the investigation within 120 working days. In addition, the provision to complete the trial of the case within 180 working days must also be implemented, he added.
The former chief justice further said in order to settle the cases within the stipulated time frame, it is necessary to find out the problems and take immediate steps to resolve them. "Besides, creating a special bench in the HC to settle appeals is the call of the hour."
He also asked for effective steps to address the long delay in starting the trials after filing charge sheets in ACC cases.