Abdul Majid Master, of Maheshkhali upazila of Cox's Bazar, has been on the run since a war crimes tribunal issued an arrest warrant for him more than two years ago.
Police on several occasions submitted reports to the tribunal, identifying him as a fugitive. In the latest report submitted on February 13, Zahirul Haque, a sub-inspector of Maheshkahli Police Station, said he had visited Majid's house but didn't find him.
In reality, Majid died on December 22 last year of old-age complications at the age of 85 at his village home. He was buried there.
Neither the tribunal nor its prosecution and investigation agency were aware of his death until May 25 when a defence counsel spoke of the matter in court for the first time.
By that time, the court held hearing on the case, in which Majid was named as one of the 18 accused, twice.
The prosecution yesterday prayed to the International Crimes Tribunal-1 to take legal action against the police officials responsible for showing “gross negligence”. The court said it would pass necessary orders regarding the matter later.
However, Majid's case was not an isolated one.
Wazuddin, of Mymensingh's Phulbaria upazila, died of old-age complications on May 7, 2016.
But police didn't inform the tribunal of his death until January 12 when a media report brought the matter to the fore.
The “unusual delay and negligence” in informing the tribunal of the death of the war crimes accused led to the charge framing against him in absentia on December 11, 2016, since the prosecution based on an earlier police report had pressed formal charges identifying him as a fugitive.
Later, the tribunal asked the inspector general of police and the superintendent of police of Mymensingh to explain police's “blatant inefficiency and negligence” in communicating the information.
It exonerated Mymensingh SP Syed Nurul Islam as he offered an unconditional apology and accepted the IGP's proposal to keep the tribunal informed about the status of the fugitives on a regular basis.
In a reply, IGP AKM Shahidul Hoque wrote that police would submit reports every 15 days to the tribunal on war crimes fugitives, with reasons as to why they failed to arrest them.
District superintendents of police would maintain a register on the matter. The SPs along with the officers-in-charge concerned would monitor the situation to ensure that court orders are properly complied with, he said in a letter to the court.
Even after all these proposals, Majid's death was not communicated to the court in time.
On May 21, 2015, the ICT-2 issued arrest warrants for 16 war crimes accused, of Moheshkhali, including Majid. Police arrested three of them.
On October 8 of that year, the investigation agency completed its probe into the case and found the involvement of Majid and 17 others in the killing of at least 94 people and other offences during the 1971 Liberation War.
The prosecution pressed 12 charges against them on March 15 last year and the tribunal, taking the charges into cognisance, asked police to give reports on the fugitives.
On February 13, SI Zahirul reported to the court that he had visited Majid's house but did not find him, Prosecutor Rana Dasgupta said.
On May 25 when the tribunal was set to hear on charge framing in the case, defence counsel Abdus Sobhan Tarafder said he had heard of Majid's death.
The chief prosecutor office then wrote to the investigation agency to verify the information. Nurul Islam, the investigation officer of the case, wrote to the officer-in-charge of Maheshkhali police on June 11, enquiring about the matter.
On July 5, Imam Hossain, SI of the police station, wrote to the investigation agency that Majid, of Gorakghata Sikderpara under Maheshkhali municipality, died at his house. He also sent a death certificate of Majid.
The prosecution received the report on July 11.
Rana Dasgupta yesterday told the tribunal that police had shown “gross negligence” in discharging their duties, and sought punitive actions against the persons responsible.
At that point, a judge asked him as to why the prosecution had not written to the ministry concerned, seeking administrative action against them. The judge cited Wazuddin's case, in which a police official had been exonerated following his apology.
Rana Dasgupta said the prosecution formally learnt about Majid's death two days ago, and that the tribunal could punish those responsible for the negligence under the ICT act for obstructing the judicial process.
The tribunal in response said it would pass an order later.
As the court proceedings ended, the prosecutor said the incident had left the prosecution in an “embarrassing situation.”
The prosecution itself had nothing to do regarding Majid's case, as it gets information about any accused from the investigation agency and the agency gets information from police.
Asked about the matter, SI Zahirul, now in charge of Matarbari Police Outpost in Maheshkhali, said, “I indeed visited Majid's house before sending the report, but nobody told me about his death.”