• Sunday, November 23, 2014

Star's report foiled bid to deny justice

Emran Hossain

The country's top state law officer apparently knew nothing about the matter until Sunday, two days before the date fixed by a Dhaka drug court for announcing judgment on adulteration of child drugs by a manufacturer two decades ago.

An investigation by The Daily Star in 2009 set the trial against five high-ups of Adflame Pharmaceuticals back on track after it remained stayed for 13 years by a High Court order. Though the stay was vacated by the HC in 2007, the trial did not resume until the day The Daily Star report was published on November 11 two years later.

The HC decision cancelling the stay on Adflame trial was kept concealed by a drug court clerk for two years.

The Daily Star report brought in the spotlight the government's indifference to take action, allowing five manufacturers to continue with producing tainted drug for a decade, its reluctance in prosecuting the offenders after a physician had blown the whistle, and manipulation and corruption at the Directorate of Drug Administration and the Dhaka Drug Court.

Five years have passed since the deadlock on the trial was brought to an end, finally having three of the five Adflame adulterators convicted for the highest term as per the law.

Surprisingly, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam apparently remained unaware of the matter throughout the period since the disclosures came followed by regular follow-ups as the trial stepped forward inch by inch on its track.

As a result, uncertainty looms over the fate of two other cases still stayed by the HC even after The Daily Star investigation brought it to light five years ago. It has been 21 years now that the trial of manufacturers at Polychem Laboratories Ltd and BCI (Bangladesh) Ltd has been suspended since 1994.

Contacted by The Daily Star, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam regretted that he did not know about it and felt that the DDA was supposed to inform him about the deadlock.

“I would have jumped in for prosecuting those manufacturers had I known it,” he told The Daily Star.

The HC while vacating the Adflame stay in 2007 underscored the importance of completing trial regarding drug adulteration and said: “It is a crime against society as such the trial should be held to find out whether the allegations are true or not.”

But even the HC order could not reach the trial court without having been impended. The order was placed in the piles of disposed off cases by court clerk Abdul Haque, who received it on October 5, 2007. A massive four-day hunt by The Daily Star finally discovered the document.

Apparently, the story of drug adulteration is the country's biggest ever corporate corruption as an estimated 2,700 children were killed between 1982 and 1992. Though media outcry forced the DDA to act and prosecute four of the five brands tested positive for containing 10 to 20 percent diethylene glycol on December 3, 1992, the trial was manipulated by destroying evidence deliberately.

Records show that a Mymensingh court, which acquitted two accused of Rex Pharma in 2002, had never been told how the test was undertaken. Even the test report was not produced during trial. The prosecutor had also never made the point that a test supervised by a government analyst was conclusive, no matter where it was conducted.

An exception to this might have taken place if the defendant had written to the DDA questioning the test within 28 days of receiving the results, but that was not the case.

"It is found that the chemical examination of the seized paracetamol syrup was not properly done," ruled the court in its acquittal order.

The DDA never appealed against the acquittal.

But The Daily Star investigation revealed that SK Roy, an expert consultant from the World Health Organization, had worked with the DDA for the test taken place at a government-owned drug testing laboratory, EDCL.

The EDCL had just installed gas chromatography equipment required for the test at that time. Results of an independent test done in the USA matched with the government findings. The Daily Star saw the USA report on test result.

The EDCL people, who were present during the test, confirmed that it was done properly, but the government men did not want them to keep an official record of it.

A DDA circular, two days after the test was done at EDCL, explained the reason for not keeping records. The circular stated that Bangladesh “did not” have adequate facilities for carrying out such tests, questioning integrity of the test result.

This circular provided the ground, on which the accused moved to the HC to secure bail and obtain a stay on the cases in mid-1994. It was never challenged by the DDA.

Apart from all these, City Chemical and Pharmaceutical was not even sued after its product, Paracit, was found to have contained the toxin out of a list of 135 brands tested. A director of the company was Khondker Mahtabuddin Ahmed, who was the father-in-law of Barrister Abdus Salam Talukdar, the then LGRD minister and BNP's secretary general.

Neither DDA Director General Jahangir Hossain Mallick nor Director Abul Khair Chowdhury, complainant of three of the four cases, could be reached for a comment.

Surprisingly, after the Adflame trial was resumed following The Daily Star report, the complainant of the three cases, DDA Director Abul Khair Chowdhury, spoke in favour of the accused and appeared to have forgotten the name of the brand, Adflame.

Published: 12:02 am Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Last modified: 5:05 am Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TAGS: Drug adulteration Adflame Pharmaceuticals Paracetamol syrup Flammadol diethylene glycol

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