The chief prosecutor and the chief coordinator of the prosecution are apparently on the verge of a face-off, as both are determined to keep control over the 22-member team that has been dealing with war crimes cases.
Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arief Tipoo has termed the post, "chief coordinator", illegal while MK Rahman, who holds the post, said he has the sole authority to allocate or reallocate the duties of prosecutors.
The issue has created an uncomfortable atmosphere in the team that is currently dealing with seven cases, including one related to Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, at the International Crimes Tribunals.
A section of prosecutors recently discussed removing the chief prosecutor in an "illegal meeting", a meeting source said.
On Monday, a notice signed by a prosecutor Hrishikesh Saha on behalf of the chief coordinator, was served on prosecutors regarding attendance at a meeting.
The agenda of the meeting included "case management, ongoing situation among prosecution team and others".
The notice came days after the chief prosecutor had redistributed the duties of his team members, leaving six prosecutors without any specific work.
The notice reads: "An important meeting of the prosecution team will be held today [Monday] at 5:00pm in the office of the chief prosecutor. The chief co-ordinator will address the meeting. So, the chief prosecutor along with other members of the prosecution team are requested to attend the meeting."
Soon after the notice was served, an emergency office order by the chief prosecutor was issued, ruling the notice void.
The chief prosecutor's office order reads: "The appointment of the prosecutors of the Chief Prosecutor's Office of International Crimes Tribunal had been done as per Section 7 of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973. Only the chief prosecutor is entitled to call a meeting. The meeting has been called illegally without my direction."
"The meeting is considered invalid. Therefore, the effectiveness of the calling of the meeting is void. Prosecutor Hrishikesh Saha is requested to withdraw the invalid notice and convey the message to other prosecutors," it added.
But the meeting was held at the library of the Chief Prosecutor's Office. Fourteen prosecutors out of 22 took part in the meeting, which was presided over by MK Rahman.
Wishing anonymity, a prosecutor, who attended the meeting, said the removal of the chief prosecutor was discussed in the meeting. Some of the prosecutors excoriated a few of their colleagues, terming them "leftists".
"It is not possible to conduct the cases without the Awami League-backed lawyers," the meeting source quoted a prosecutor, who was among the six, as saying.
Tipoo yesterday told The Daily Star that there was no post of chief coordinator in the act and therefore, it was illegal. "How could he call such a meeting without my knowledge?" he said.
However, MK Rahman, an additional attorney general, told The Daily Star that his post was legal as the government had appointed him.
Rahman was appointed chief coordinator of the prosecution team in January last year.
"I did not come here for grouping," he said, adding that the chief prosecutor had been "ill-advised".
On March 3, Prosecutor Tureen Afroz filed a complaint seeking necessary action against her colleague Mohammad Ali for making derogatory comments in a TV interview.
In the interview, Ali alleged that there was "a leftist bloc" in the prosecution team and Tureen belonged to it.
Two days later, Tipoo redistributed the duties of his team members, leaving six prosecutors, including Ali, without any specific work.
The other five prosecutors are Syed Rezaur Rahman, Abdur Rahman Howlader, Altab Uddin Ahmed, Mir Iqbal Hossain and Nurjahan Begum Mukta.
Although the prosecution chief declined to give the reasons behind the move, sources in the prosecution said "poor performance" and "long absence" of prosecutors in court proceedings were the reasons behind the redistribution.
After the reallocation of duties, the chief prosecutor now has to issue an office order to conduct Nizami's case, the closing arguments of which started anew on Monday. Mohammad Ali and Tureen Afroz had placed closing arguments on earlier occasions.
On March 9, Tipoo directed Ali and Tureen to place closing arguments in the case and asked the five other prosecutors to assist them.
Contacted by The Daily Star, Law Minister Anisul Huq said that he was aware of the problem and would try to resolve it soon.
On several occasions, the “poor performance” of the prosecution has drawn criticism from the court as well as by organisations which have been campaigning for the trial of war criminals for a long number of years.
In November last year, the team came under criticism after four members of the prosecution sought nominations from the ruling AL to take part in the 10th parliamentary election.
Shahriar Kabir, executive president of Ekatturer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, which has been campaigning for war crimes trials for the last two decades, said the “conflict” might affect the ongoing trial.
"If the trial faces any hindrance (due to their conflict), the entire nation will not pardon them," he said. He sought the intervention of the law minister and the prime minister in resolving the crisis.