BNP Senior Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and fined Tk 20 crore by the High Court yesterday in a money laundering case which may have an enormous impact on his political career.
The HC overturned a lower court verdict that acquitted Tarique in the money laundering case involving Tk 20.41 crore.
This is the first time Tarique, elder son of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, has been convicted and handed down punishment by a court in one of the 19 cases filed against him since 2007.
The money laundering case has become a high-profile one for several reasons.
For the first time in Bangladesh's history, a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the USA gave testimony and produced evidence against Tarique in a Dhaka court during trial of the case in 2011. The FBI gathered proof of money laundering by Tarique and his friend and business partner Giasuddin Al Mamun.
In 2013, the lower court acquitted the BNP leader of the money laundering charge. It jailed Mamun for seven years and fined him Tk 40 crore.
After delivering the verdict, the trial court judge left the country, giving rise to speculations that he had acquitted Tarique following an alleged deal.
The Anti-Corruption Commission, which filed the case in 2009, challenged Tarique's acquittal. Mamun also filed an appeal with the HC against the trial court verdict.
Yesterday, an HC bench found Tarique guilty of money laundering and sentenced him in absentia.
Tarique, who emerged as the country's most powerful man during the 2001-2006 tenure of the BNP government, was mired in controversy for his undue interference in the government administration.
He ran the controversial Hawa Bhaban, an alternative centre of power in the then government, which was shut down after the BNP government's tenure.
Tarique was arrested in an anti-corruption crackdown in March 2007 and was released on bail on September 3 the following year. He flew to the UK on September 11 for treatment and has been staying in London since then.
In the money laundering case filed in 2009, he was accused of siphoning off the money to Singapore when the BNP was in power.
In its verdict, the HC observed, "This kind of corruption being backed by political influence threatens good governance, sustainable development and democratic process."
Tarique was found guilty of the offence of laundering the huge amount of ill-gotten funds. And he was culpably a conscious party to “that financial crime, thus deserves no leniency," it said.
The HC bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Amir Hossain upheld the trial court verdict that convicted and sentenced Mamun to seven years' imprisonment for the same offence.
It, however, reduced Mamun's fine from Tk 40 crore to Tk 20 crore, the same as Tarique's.
The laundered Tk 20 crore that the Singapore government returned in 2007 would be kept at Bangladesh Bank until the two convicts pay the fines, the HC said.
It ordered the ACC to take steps in accordance with the law to prosecute Hosaf Group Chairman Moyazzam Hosen, Nirman Construction Chairman Khadiza Islam,
Mayer Sairee and Merina Jaman -- all of whom were parties in the process of laundering money and aided the convicts in gaining the laundered money.
The consequences of this conviction would be immense.
If Tarique, now in London, wants to challenge the judgment, he must surrender before the trial court since he is now a fugitive.
"Since convict Md Tarique Rahman has been absconding, the sentence of imprisonment as awarded above shall be executed after causing his arrest or when he surrenders before the trial court, whichever is earlier,” said the HC in its short order.
Tarique now has the option to surrender and file an appeal with the Supreme Court.
If he loses the legal battle at the apex court, he will have to suffer imprisonment for seven years. And this will disqualify him from contesting the parliamentary elections for at least 12 years.
According to Article 66 (2) (d) of the constitution, a person shall be disqualified for election or for being a member of parliament if he has been on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, and unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.
Tarique is facing more than a dozen criminal cases, including the one over the August 21 grenade attack case. Twenty-four people were killed and many wounded in the grisly attack on an Awami League rally in the capital in 2004.
Yesterday's verdict dealt a blow to the BNP that strongly denounced it.
The party termed the judgment "politically motivated" and alleged it is aimed at keeping Tarique away from politics.
To gradually pass the party leadership to her son Tarique, Khaleda made him its senior joint secretary general in 2003. But as a condition for his release in 2008, Tarique had to quit the post.
He, however, was made senior vice chairman at the party council in December 2009. Provisions were introduced in the BNP charter, allowing the senior vice chairman to automatically assume the charge of the party in the absence of the chairperson.
Tarique retained the post at the last party council held a few months ago.
The BNP has been projecting him as the future leader who would lead it to power.
WHAT CAN TARIQUE DO NOW?
Tarique's lawyer Zainul Abedin told reporters that his client didn't get justice as he was not involved in any offence of money laundering in any manner.
He said they would take the next legal step in consultation with Tarique after receiving the full text of the HC judgment.
Talking to reporters, ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan said Tarique has to surrender before the trial court for filing an appeal with the SC.
He will get 30 days to file appeal after the HC releases the full verdict, he said.
It has been proved through the HC verdict that nobody is above the law, he added .
“It is to be noted with regret that Md Tarique Rahman belonging to a political class which was saddled with responsibility of directing the affairs of the country had acted as a conscious part of the financial crime,” said the HC.
“He being the mighty political elite by virtue of his position obtained dirty money in the name of 'consultation fee' through his close cohort [convict Giasuddin Al Mamun].
“This manner of financial crimes, the upshot of achieving wealth in corrupt ways committed under political shield, is on increase. Time has come to get this type of criminal activities carried out by using political favour and patronisation halted for the cause of well-being of the country and its development process.”
The HC judges said, “We emphatically observe that corrupt practices and political influences indisputably make significant space for an individual or group to be indulged in such financial crime like 'money laundering' which leaves perverse influence on the entire society.
“The trend of obtaining ill-gotten money by extending undue favour to an individual or a group, in exercise of political might must be stopped. The society should awake to condemn and prevent political patronisation in accomplishing such organised financial criminal activities affecting country's economy and development.
“The victim of the financial crime like money laundering is every citizen of this country… Might of the offender engaged in laundering huge amount of ill-gotten money, hiding its source and means, must be resisted by awarding appropriate punishment for the sake of country's ongoing economic development,” they added.
WHERE IS JUDGE MOTAHAR?
Law Minister Anisul Huq yesterday said Tarique got acquitted in the case at the trial court by influencing its judge.
The judge (Motahar Hossain of Dhaka Special Judge's Court-3) along with his family members left for Malaysia a few days after he delivered the judgment, acquitting Tarique in November 2013, said Anisul.
The minister also said the government issued a notice asking him to get back to work, but he didn't respond.