Vol. 5 Num 1017 Wed. April 11, 2007  
Front Page

Hasina to fly home early
Cops begin probe into extortion case, plaintiff slips behind the scene

Former prime minister and Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina is planning to return home much earlier than scheduled as a result of the filing of the extortion case against her, according to high ranking party leaders.

Hasina was originally scheduled to return home in the last week of this month. Although most leaders of her party could not say exactly on what date she will return home, AL Presidium Member Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, who is also a cousin of Hasina, told The Daily Star last night that she will arrive on April 14.

Meanwhile the police yesterday started investigating the case. The government on the other hand is planning to carry out the investigation of the case through the task force under the National Coordination Committee headed by Communication Adviser Maj Gen (retd) MA Matin. "Awami League President Sheikh Hasina is a VIP, so the government is considering initiation of an investigation of the case by the National Task Force," Matin told journalists yesterday.

The same day the case docket was sent to the General Recording Office (GRO) of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court, Dhaka. Metropolitan Magistrate Mir Ali Reza directed Investigation Officer (IO) of the case Jane Alam to submit his report on May 10.

Leading politicians of AL and BNP are seeing the filing of the case against Sheikh Hasina as not only a mere lawsuit but as 'a major political development' in light of the changed political situation in the country.

"There is of course a political motive behind filing of such a case in the present context," said a leading politician yesterday preferring not to be named and adding, "There were scopes for filing such a case during the last five years of BNP-Jamaat-led alliance government's regime, so it's a threat to top level politicians."

Jane Alam, who is also the officer-in-charge of Tejgoan police station told The Daily Star last evening that he had talked to the complainant Kazi Tajul Islam Farook yesterday and the day before as part of the inquiry.

The Daily Star failed to reach Farook despite repeated efforts to contact him. A family source said the complainant is not interested to talk to the media about the case. They however requested The Daily Star to give him some time to cool down following a seemingly tense situation he is in right now.

The family source said although the case was filed on Monday, Farook had been staying away from the family for the previous three days without letting them know where he had been staying.

He returned home only after the filing of the case on Monday afternoon, family sources said. Meanwhile, police have been deployed at the Gulshan residence of Farook.

As a state of emergency is in effect in the country with a ban on indoor politics, most politicians including leading AL members preferred to refrain from talking to the media about the case, but some of the leaders seeking anonymity said they believe the move was made against Hasina in a bid to kick the current chiefs of AL and BNP out of politics.

A top BNP leader told The Daily Star seeking anonymity that the filing of the case against Hasina is not a mere incident rather it is a significant political development.

The BNP leader said cases can be filed against anyone if there are allegations, but filing a case against such a top politician who is a former prime minister requires rigorous political deliberation on the part of the government regarding whether it will allow the case to stand.

Since the ongoing drive against high-profile suspected corrupt politicians started in the first week of February, the country has been rife with speculation that the interim government will ultimately create an atmosphere where the current chiefs of the two major political parties -- AL and BNP will have no choice but to quit politics and go to self exiles.

The speculation was buttressed by Law Adviser Barrister Mainul Hosein's comment on April 4 that the caretaker government is not interested in holding any election keeping the current leaderships of different political parties in place and that the government is especially interested to put an end to dynastic politics.

"We want good new leadership to emerge instead of the old ones," he said after a meeting with the chief election commissioner at the Election Commission Secretariat.

Within five days of the law adviser's comment leaders of different political parties yesterday said they are trying to find out whether there is any link between the comment and the filing of the extortion case against Hasina.

Communication Adviser Maj Gen (retd) MA Matin, who is also the chairman of the National Coordination Committee against major corruption and crimes, clarified the government's position about the case yesterday and said there was no political motive behind it.

Asked whether the case has any link with the law adviser's recent comment, Matin said it seems that the government had no such plan.

But some politicians think that the case is an 'open threat' to Sheikh Hasina to keep her in exile and at the same time a pressure on Khaleda Zia so that she also gets ready to face the same fate.

As the date for Hasina's return was getting closer, whether the AL chief will be allowed to come back home and at the same time whether the BNP chairperson will be forced to go to an exile, were the most talked about topics in the country.

Some influential leaders of AL told The Daily Star last night that they think Hasina should come back home quickly no matter what is the plot behind the case. They said they have already conveyed their suggestion to Hasina. "We have information that our party chief will fight the case after she returns home as early as possible," said an AL leader.

Hasina, who had attended the oath taking ceremony of the present caretaker government led by Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed and openly supported many moves of the government especially the drive against corruption, made some comments on April 7 criticising the non-party government and the Election Commission for 'delaying' the next general election on 'different pretexts' terming the interim administration 'undemocratic and unconstitutional'.

Some AL leaders said the harsh comments made by Hasina might have irked the government to the point where it might allow such a case against her to stand.

A few influential AL leaders see a 'designed structure and sequences' flowing through the incident of filing the case against their party chief. They said before the filing of the case, there was a campaign against Hasina and her son Sajib Wazed Joy including distribution of leaflets and publication of 'maligning' reports in some specific newspapers and magazines.

Meanwhile, AL yesterday issued an official statement condemning and protesting the filing of the case. Its acting President Zillur Rahman, and General Secretary Abdul Jalil termed the case a 'pre-planned drama'.

"This is just unbelievable," the AL statement said adding that the 'false' case was filed against Sheikh Hasina with an ill motive to tarnish her political image.

Top AL leaders yesterday told The Daily Star that their party's archrivals like BNP and Jamaat were in power in the last five years and they also filed some corruption cases against Hasina, so the previous government's regime was a very favourable time for filing such extortion cases against the AL chief and it was quite possible to tarnish her political image at the time.

An AL leader who has a long experience of working closely with Hasina said the language and words used in the First Information Report (FIR) are 'really unbelievable' where it said, "The then prime minister wanted to break the hands and legs of the complainant if he did not give the money."

Since the launching of the anti-corruption drive against high profile corruption suspects including politicians, so far such extortion cases have been filed against former prime minister Khaleda Zia's eldest son Tarique Rahman and against his business partner and close friend Giasuddin Al Mamun.

A cross section of people have been keenly observing the government's move against Tarique and Mamun as well as against some ministers and lawmakers of the immediate past government as there is a slew of allegations of corruption against them.

Some AL leaders told The Daily Star that the credibility of the extortion cases against Tarique and Mamun will be questioned if, in their words, the extortion case against Hasina turns out to be politically motivated.

The people will start questioning whether all the cases so far against the suspected corrupt high profile persons are also ill motivated, the AL leaders said.

One AL leader said since BNP has been thoroughly discredited by the charges of corruption against Tarique, Mamun, and former BNP ministers and lawmakers, the enemies of AL are trying to discredit AL and its chief also through a well structured campaign which includes filing of 'motivated' cases.

They said they do not disagree with the notion that political parties need to reform themselves.

"We tried to bring many reforms to our party before and some of those are yet to be implemented for many reasons," said an AL leader adding that party reform is a continuous process and still there are chances to reform AL.

About the caretaker government's penchant for changing the topmost leader of the party, the most common view among the top and mid-level AL leaders is that the matter absolutely depends on the party activists and leaders and that is real democracy.

Following the filing of the case against Hasina, leaders, activists and supporters of AL across the country are in a state of panic and in a deep doubt about the fate of their party chief and the rumours surrounding her, said a close aide to Hasina. "Many grassroots level leaders have contacted us, we suggested them to remain united and not to be scared. We will take a stand together to face any conspiracy against us," said the AL leader.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported yesterday that Hasina talked to the newspaper over the phone from Jacksonville, Florida and termed the case against her 'totally absurd'.

She told the US newspaper that a businessman's complaint to police was made 'just to insult her and her party Awami League'.

Hasina said she is not afraid to return home. "I have had to face all those things in the past," she said adding, "I took risks, and my people are more important to me than my life." She was to fly to Washington later in the day to visit her son.

She also said the interim government proposed delay of elections for 18 more months to complete a secure voter registration roll is too long in view of the 'unpredictable nature of politics' in her country.

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