Former industries minister Motiur Rahman Nizami was in collusion with former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar in the smuggling of the 10-truck arms and ammunition, according to the verdict in the smuggling case filed over the Chittagong arms haul.
Nizami, also the ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, had sent his trusted additional secretary Nurul Amin to the CUFL rest house to oversee the offloading of the weapons on the night of the incident, the court said.
"Hence, it is understood that the then industries minister Motiur Rahman Nizami had links beforehand with the incident," Judge SM Mojibur Rahman of Chittagong Metropolitan Special Tribunal-1 said in the judgment.
The court came to the conclusion based on the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, including two top government officials, and circumstantial evidence of the cases.
Surprisingly, Nizami and Babar, two influential leaders of the then BNP-led four-party alliance, were not included in the initial probe though their names were widely discussed in relation to the smuggling.
They were included in 2011, following further investigation around seven years after the seizure. And finally on January 30 this year, the court found them guilty along with 12 others and handed down death penalty to the 14 in the smuggling case. The court also sentenced them to life in the other case filed for possession of illegal firearms.
The two cases were filed in connection with the April 2, 2004, arms haul. In the early hours on the day, a huge cache of sophisticated arms and ammunition was seized at the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd (CUFL). The arms, made in China, were meant for the Indian separatist organisation United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa).
The court in its verdict said Shoeb Ahmed, the then industries secretary, and Maj Gen (retd) Mohammad Imamuzzaman, former chairman of Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC), testified against Nizami.
The duo are socially dignified persons and are not involved with any political party, said the court, adding that there was no ill-feeling between Nizami and these witnesses. Even Nizami did not mention of any ill-feeling against them in his written argument.
"So I don't think there is any reason to disbelieve their testimonies," said the court.
Shoeb, also former adviser to a caretaker government, and Imamuzzaman gave almost similar depositions, it added.
The tribunal said despite being informed of such a big incident, Nizami did not fairly investigate it or take any step on the ministry's behalf.
"He [Nizami] avoided all the responsibilities, saying the home ministry will do whatever is needed. And he left the matter to the then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar.
"This proves that in relation to the incident the industries minister was in collusion with the then state minister for home," the court said.
Nurul Amin, additional secretary of industries ministry, stayed at the CUFL rest house that falls under the industries ministry. He was tried in absentia and awarded the death sentence.
The court said Nurul had been overseeing the unloading of the weapons on instructions of the higher authorities. "This accused [Nurul] ran away at one stage of further investigation and did not show courage to face the trial."
Hafizur Rahman, the prime accused who is a Chittagong-based arms smuggler, in his confessional statement said the CUFL authorities did not obstruct or object to the berthing of trawlers or unloading of the arms.
It is clear from the evidence and Hafizur's statement that the arms were being unloaded following collusion between Nizami, former CUFL managing director Mohsin Uddin Talukder and its general manager KM Enamul Haque. Nizami persuaded them to do so, the court said.
Mohsin and Enamul were among the 14 sentenced to death.
Referring to the testimonies of several prosecution witnesses, the court said Babar attempted to save the NSI officials involved with the smuggling by not implicating them in the case. He instead had ordered the release of the five people arrested from the CUFL jetty on the night.
According to the verdict, Babar held a meeting at the Police Commissioner's office in Chittagong on the afternoon of April 2 and instructed the police officials concerned not to give any interview with the media, "apprehending the truth will out".
The former state minister also directed his ministry officials not to mention in the probe report NSI's involvement with the incident, said the court, adding, "It clearly shows that the then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar was fully involved with the incident."