24-year-old Defence Purchase Scam: Ershad, two other accused acquitted
A Dhaka court yesterday acquitted Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad and two others in a 24-year-old defence purchase scam case as it found the prosecution could not prove the charges brought against the accused.
Delivering the verdict, Judge Kamrul Hossain Mollah of the Metropolitan Senior Special Judge's Court said the Anti-Corruption Commission failed to prove the charges of abuse of power and embezzlement of Tk 64.04 crore in purchasing two radars for the Air Force.
The judge said Ershad only approved the purchase proposal. The radars were not bought for anyone's personal interest, but in the national interest, he added.
Two others acquitted in the case are former air chiefs Sultan Mahmud and Mamtazuddin Ahmed.
Another accused AKM Musa, one of the directors of United Traders Ltd, had been absconding since the filing of the case.
He later died a fugitive.
The then Bureau of Anti-Corruption (BAC) had filed the case against ex-president Ershad and three others in 1992, two years after the fall of the former autocratic ruler.
According to the prosecution, Ershad in collusion with others allegedly caused a loss of Tk 64.04 crore to the state by purchasing radars from the USA instead of France.
The BAC pressed charges against the five accused on October 27, 1994.
In August the following year, the trial court framed charges against the four accused.
Ousted from power in December 1990, Ershad faced 21 cases, mostly for alleged corruption. However, he has already been acquitted by courts in most of the cases.
After yesterday's acquittal, he is now facing three more cases, including those for Uttara plot allotment scam and murder of Maj Gen Abul Manzoor. Both the cases are now under trial.
In the other graft case, Ershad was convicted and sentenced to jail for three years by a court. The case is now pending with the High Court that might pronounce its verdict on May 9 on the JP chief's appeal against his conviction.
Ershad's latest acquittal came amid his recent move to form an alliance with some Islamist parties ahead of the next parliamentary election due in early 2019.
The JP chairman, also a special envoy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was acquitted of corruption charges in four cases in August and September 2006 after he had consented to join the then ruling BNP-led four-party alliance.
He was also cleared of charges in nine more cases, including one for gold smuggling, between 2007 and 2009.
The former military ruler joined the Awami League-led grand alliance in 2009.
Around two years later, he was acquitted in a money laundering case filed in 1995 during the tenure of the then BNP government.
ERSHAD IN COURT
Several hundred JP leaders and activists, including Ershad's brother GM Quader, Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud, State Minister for LGRD Moshiur Rahman Ranga and Ziauddin Bablu, accompanied the party chief to the court premises yesterday afternoon.
The judge read out part of the verdict in presence of the three accused.
Ershad was sitting on a chair in the dock designated for the accused. He looked calm and didn't say anything in the courtroom after the delivery of the verdict, said court sources.
Additional security measures were taken in the court area ahead of the delivery of the verdict.
The court in its verdict said neither Ershad nor the other accused were benefited personally from the purchase and the ex-president didn't make way for others to be benefited.
“Ershad only approved the purchase proposal after the then defence secretary had placed a summary purchase proposal. So the two other accused were not responsible for the purchase. Therefore, they were not liable [for the purchase] and should be acquitted,” said the judge in his verdict.
“Although the prosecution produced documentary and circumstantial evidence before the court, it failed to prove the charges.”
According to the court, the investigation officer failed to reveal who embezzled money in purchasing the radars and what was the amount.
The names of former air chief Air Vice Marshall (retd) Altaf Hossain Chowdhury and two others should have been included in the charge sheet as prosecution witnesses, but the investigation officer didn't do so, the court added.
It observed that suspicion was cast over the merit of the case when the name of Shahjad Ali, another director of United Traders Ltd, was dropped during charge framing although he made a confessional statement before a metropolitan magistrate.
Public Prosecutor Mir Ahmed Abdus Salam expressed dissatisfaction over the verdict and said he would send the full verdict of the case to the ACC.
ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan told reporters that they would file an appeal with the High Court against the lower court's verdict.
Ershad's attorney Sheikh Sirajul Islam told journalists that his client got justice.
“The radars were purchased in the national interest and there was no corruption. The documents produced before the court proved that Ershad was innocent,” he said.