Just a week before the day scheduled for verdict, the judge of a Dhaka court dealing with the long-pending Gen Manzoor murder case was transferred, making it uncertain as to when the judgment would be delivered.
Jatiya Party chief former military dictator HM Ershad is the prime accused in the case.
Asaduzzaman Khan Rochi, public prosecutor of the case, said delivery of the judgment slated for February 10 might be deferred. "The new judge being unaware of the case contents may hear closing arguments of both sides for several days," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
The case has seen 22 judges since it was filed on August 28, 1995, and the judges were either promoted or transferred to other districts.
Defence counsel Sheikh Muhammad Serajul Islam said if the new judge could scrutinise all the documents within a short time, he might deliver the verdict on time; otherwise he would have to defer the date.
A number of JP leaders believe the government wants to keep the case pending to keep Ershad under pressure, preventing him from taking a stand against the government.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, some Awami League senior leaders said they could not trust Ershad, who is widely known as an unpredictable politician.
The case filed in 1995 during the then BNP-led government has never got the pace for disposal. The trial began in 1999 when the Awami League-led government was in power.
But it suddenly got pace in July last year after Ershad had refused to extend support to the AL-nominated mayoral candidate in the Gazipur City Corporation election.
At that stage, both the prosecution and the defence placed their arguments. Hearing of the case resumed in November and on completion of hearing on January 22, the court fixed February 10 for delivering the verdict.
Ershad on November 11 declared that he would not contest the 10th parliamentary election in the absence of all political parties. He, however, changed his mind, but after submission of nomination papers, he announced to quit the election on December 3.
Sources in the Jatiya Party claimed that Ershad was not allowed to quit the electoral race. He was confined to a hospital and was elected as an MP against his will. He was compelled to swear in as MP and was also appointed as the special envoy to the prime minister, they said.
Against this backdrop, the court on January 22 fixed the day for delivering the verdict. Ershad on the next day issued a press statement thanking the prime minister for appointing him as her special envoy.
Things took a new turn as the Dhaka district judge on January 29 transferred Judge Begum Hosne Ara Aktar of the Manzoor murder case to another court replacing Judge Khondker Hasan Md Firoz.
Judge Firoz was transferred to the court, which has been dealing with the Manzoor murder case.
Asked, Md Akbar Hossain, administrative officer of the Court of District and Sessions Judge, Dhaka told The Daily Star on Thursday five judges including Hosne Ara and Firoz had been transferred.
"They have been transferred only in public interest and for the convenience of trial proceedings," he said citing the reasons written on the transfer order.
Maj Gen Abul Manzoor was killed at Chittagong Cantonment on June 1, 1981, just two days into the assassination of the then president Ziaur Rahman.
Manzoor, who was the commander of Sector-8 during the Liberation War, was believed to have carried out an abortive Chittagong coup in which Zia was killed.
The other accused in the case are Maj (retd) Kazi Emdadul Haque, Lt Col (retd) Mostafa Kamaluddin Bhuiyan, Maj Gen (retd) Abdul Latif and Lt Col (retd) Shamsur Rahman Shamser.