By Sharif Khiam
A special court here sentenced former Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, who fled Bangladesh in 2017, to 11 years on money-laundering and graft charges Tuesday, the first time an ex-Supreme Court leader has been convicted in the South Asian nation.
Sheikh Nazmul Alam, a special court judge in Dhaka, announced the conviction and sentencing against Sinha, according to prosecutor Mir Ahmed Ali Salam.
“The court has awarded former Chief Justice S.K. Sinha four years’ imprisonment for criminal breach of trust and seven years for money laundering. We are happy with the verdict,” the prosecutor told BenarNews. “This is the first instance of conviction of a former chief justice.”
The former chief justice is living in self-imposed exile in Canada after he resigned in protest saying he was forced to leave his homeland because of his opposition to a constitutional amendment, which empowered the legislature to remove judges from the Supreme Court bench.
A leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the leading opposition party, called the verdict “politically motivated.”
“If he surrenders, he would get the opportunity to appeal against the judgment,” Salam said, adding the judge fined Sinha 4.5 million taka (nearly U.S. $52,500).
Salam also said the court ordered authorities to confiscate 7.8 million taka ($91,000) from Sinha’s bank account.
On Tuesday, Sinha, the first Hindu to serve as Bangladesh’s chief justice, did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment. At the time charges were filed in July 2019, he told BenarNews that he would not hire attorneys to represent him in court.
Sinha’s brother, Narendra Kumar Sinha, spoke to BenarNews after the verdict.
“I am not sure what he will do next. Actually, he will decide about it. I am not involved,” Narendra Kuman Sinha said.
The charge-sheet filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission 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 ($467,000) into the former chief justice’s bank account by using counterfeit credit documents.
The commission charged Sinha with withdrawing more than 21 million taka (USD $245,000) from that account and transferred the money to his brother’s account in another bank. It said the transfer constituted money laundering.
The court sentenced eight other defendants to between three and four years while two were acquitted.
Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal, a central leader of the BNP, spoke out against the verdict.
“S.K. Sinha had to leave the country due to his disagreement over the 16th Amendment to the Constitution the Awami League passed to impeach the High Court judges,” Alal told BenarNews. “The way a sitting chief justice was forced to leave the country on the pretext of treatment is unprecedented.”
The amendment passed in 2014 empowered parliament to impeach Supreme Court judges if allegations of misconduct were proven.
On Oct. 13, 2017, Sinha left Bangladesh for Australia for what he termed “better treatment.” Before leaving for the airport, he said he was not sick but was forced to leave the country while promising to return.
Nearly a month later, he sent his resignation letter from Singapore. He later traveled to the United States before settling in Canada.
Sinha later penned a book alleging that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, some Awami League ministers and government agencies had forced him to go abroad because he had declared the 16th Amendment, which allows lawmakers to sack Supreme Court justices, unconstitutional.
After Sinha’s sentencing, Law Minister Anisul Huq told journalists that everybody was equal in the eyes of law.
“This proved that the rule of law exists in Bangladesh. The judiciary and law follow its own course,” he said.