Former Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha was the main beneficiary of illegal loans granted to him in breach of Farmers Bank credit policy, a Dhaka court observed in its verdict yesterday.
The court sentenced Sinha to seven years in prison for money laundering and an additional four years for breach of trust, to be served concurrently.
Judge Shaikh Nazmul Alam of the Special Judge Tribunal-4 also sentenced eight other people to prison terms of three to four years in a corruption case filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission against Sinha and 10 others. Seven of the defendants were present in the crowded courtroom.
Sinha, believed to be in the United States, was fined Tk 45 lakh or else he will have to serve another six months in jail.
The court ordered the relevant authorities to confiscate Tk 78 lakh from a Dhaka bank, now Padma Bank, account of Sinha’s nephew, Shankhajit Sinha, in favor of the state. Judge Sinha deposited the money in Shankhajit’s account.
The 182-page verdict mentions that the five convicted former officials of Gulshan branch of Farmers Bank unlawfully and dishonestly forwarded the credit proposals to its head office for sanctioning two loans of Tk 2 crore each, in violation of the banking laws.
Violating the bank’s credit policy, the head office then illegally and dishonestly approved loans that were disbursed to the disgraced Chief Justice’s account.
“The proceeds of the loans are the proceeds of crime; therefore, the crediting of the loan amount to SK Sinha’s account makes him the accomplice and the primary beneficiary,” the verdict observed.
Former Farmers Bank Managing Director AKM Shamim was sentenced to four years in prison and fined Tk50,000, failing which he will have to serve another six months.
The court convicted former bank executive vice president Gazi Salauddin, first vice presidents Swapan Kumar Roy and Shafiuddin Askary Ahmed, vice president Lutful Haque and former bank audit committee chairman Mahbubul Haque Chisty alias Babul Chisty to three years in prison.
Two other defendants Ranjit Chandra Saha and his wife Santri Roy Simi were sentenced to three years in prison and fined Tk 10,000 each. A default would mean an additional three months in jail.
Salauddin, Swapan, Shafiuddin and Lutful were each fined Tk 25,000 and Mahbubul fined Tk 10,000. A default would mean an additional three months in jail.
According to the verdict, Mahbubul influenced relevant bank officials to approve the loan.
Businessmen Md Shahjahan and Niranjan Chandra Saha were acquitted.
“In good faith, Shahjahan and Niranjan signed documents which were used to make loans on their behalf, but they were not the recipients of the loans.”
They were defrauded by Ranjit, the court heard.
Among the convicts, Shamim, Salahuddin, Swapan, Lutful and Mahbubul are in prison while SK Sinha, Shafiuddin, Ranjit and Santri have fled.
The sentence of convicted fugitives takes effect from the date of their arrest or surrender.
ACC lawyer Mir Ahmed Ali Salam said it was the first time in Bangladesh that a former chief justice had been sentenced.
Attorney Shahinur Islam, who represented the accused, said his clients would challenge the verdict in a higher court.
A total of 21 prosecution witnesses testified in court, Salam said.
In October 2018, the ACC said it found evidence of fraud involving transactions of Tk 4 crore borrowed with fake documents by two businessmen Shahjahan and Niranjan from Farmers Bank. The money was later deposited into Judge Sinha’s account.
On July 10, 2019, ACC Director Syed Iqbal Hossain filed the corruption case with his Integrated-1 District Office in Dhaka.
On December 8 of the same year, ACC director Benjir Ahammad filed a complaint against Sinha and the other 10 defendants. The court filed charges against them on August 13 last year.
Justice Sinha resigned as Chief Justice on November 11, 2017 from overseas.
Speaking to reporters in his office, Justice Minister Anisul Huq said, “I’m not very happy. Because he [SK Sinha] had come into court. He was the chief justice of the country. This [conviction] can’t be nice to me.
“It has been proven by the verdict that no one is above the law. Those who hold constitutional or important public office must be responsible for their activities. They must be careful and maintain transparency and accountability. I believe that an example has been set through this verdict.”