Harris jailed for 3 years in fast-track graft court |
Another case on cards as ACC detects his huge ill-gained wealth
Julfikar Ali Manik
An anti-graft tribunal yesterday sentenced Harris Chowdhury, political secretary to former prime minister Khaleda Zia, to three years' imprisonment for not submitting wealth statement to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
This is the first judgment by any of the special courts set up at the MP Hostel in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar for quick disposal of the corruption cases.
The Fifth Special Court of Judge Ashraf Hossain in its decision said, "The sentence shall take effect from the date of his arrest or surrender before the court."
Harris, also joint secretary general of the BNP, has been on the run since the present caretaker government took over on January 12. He did not even employ a lawyer to defend him.
The ACC filed the case against him on April 5 with a Dhaka court that issued a warrant for his arrest the same day. It framed the charge against him on April 30 and transferred the case to the special court on May 6.
The anti-graft body is preparing to file another graft case against the BNP leader in flight. Investigation to that end is almost complete and the case could be filed within the next 15 days, said sources at the ACC and the task force formed to combat crime and corruption.
The investigators have detected huge wealth of Harris in different names at home and abroad, they added.
On February 18, the ACC published a list of 50 graft suspects and asked them to submit wealth statement within 72 hours.
But seven of them including Harris did not comply with the order. Of them, former Awami League (AL) lawmakers Joynal Hazari and Shamim Osman have already been tried in absentia by Feni and Narayanganj courts for not turning in wealth statements.
In the case against Harris, five witnesses testified for the prosecution. They include the complainant, ACC Deputy Director Abu Sayeed, ACC field official Khandker Akhteruzzaman, defendant's cousin Fakhruddin Chowdhury, the guard of Harris' neighbour, and a relation Alfaz Uddin.
Three of them gave depositions on May 6 while the other two--Fakhruddin and Alfaz--on May 16.
The prosecution made their submissions Sunday as the court fixed yesterday as the date for the judgment.
Judge Ashraf Hossain read out the judgment for more than half an hour. He said the prosecution arguments and evidence were enough for him to find Harris guilty.
At 11.15am, he passed the order saying, "Absconding accused Md Harris Chowdhury be convicted under section 26(2) Ka of the ACC Act 2004 read with rule 15 (gha) (5) of the Jaruri Khamata Bidhimala 2007, and he be sentenced to suffer simple imprisonment for three years…"
The court also issued a warrant for his arrest. Prosecution lawyer AFM Gholam Fattah told The Daily Star that Harris will get 30 days' time to appeal the verdict at the High Court. But before that, he has to surrender to the trial court or get arrested.
If he does not file his appeal within the time mentioned, the judgment will stand final.
"However, a higher court still has jurisdiction to consider an appeal after 30 days," he added.
According to the Emergency Power Ordinance (EPO) rules, any person, convicted of corruption by a trial court, will be disqualified from contesting any election until adjudication of his or her appeal against the verdict and no convicted person shall ever be considered qualified for any post in the government, semi-government organisations, statutory bodies, or in any organisation that has government affiliation.
The constitution says a person shall not be eligible to stand in any election for being convicted of a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.
Harris Chowdhury became a millionaire almost like the way Mosaddeq Ali Falu did, indicates an ACC investigation that is set to translate into a case within 15 days.
He used to stay at a rented house in the city's Shantinagar in 2001. He moved to DOHS and began to live an extravagant lifestyle soon after he had been assigned to Hawa Bhaban, the alternative powerhouse during the alliance rule, said an intelligence source.
"So far we have gathered that he has more than five houses in Dhaka under different names. He also has at least one house and a shopping mall in London under another person's name," it added.
Harris owns shares in different companies that are worth crores of taka. He has shares in National Tea Company, Mutual Trust Bank and Ocean BD Ltd, just to name a few.
"His shares in Ocean BD Ltd alone are valued over Tk 10 crore," said the source.
Besides, he has around Tk 10 crore as fixed deposits.
Most of the assets are in the names of his wife, children, brothers-in-law and personal staff. He has only a few in his own name.
A task force source said, "We have unearthed whereabouts of most of his property. We are sure of what we've found. Now we are gleaning evidence to prove in the court that those really belong to Harris."
An ACC official said that the new case will be filed under section 27 of the ACC act that relates to acquiring property disproportionate to one's known source of income.
GRAFT CASES AGAINST EX-STATE MINISTERS
ACC Deputy Director Syed Iqbal Hossain in his capacity as the investigation officer yesterday submitted a supplementary charge sheet against former state minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir.
The defence opposed the submission as they argued that it was not placed in accordance with the time and procedure permitted by the law.
They also contended that the defendant was not given any opportunity to explain his circumstances to the ACC.
The court today will decide whether to accept the supplementary charge sheet.
Syed Rezaur Rahman, Shahara Khatun and Syed Haider Ali were among the counsel for the detained AL leader.
The case against Alamgir cites inconsistency between his statement and actual wealth. The anti-graft body found that the accused did not declare in his wealth statement Tk 1.17 crore that he has in fixed deposit accounts.
After the supplementary charge sheet, his undisclosed and under-estimated assets now stand at Tk 2.10 crore.
The ACC deputy director told the press that Alamgir did not disclose that he owns two houses in Katchua valued at more than Tk 57 lakh, an under-construction market estimated to be worth around Tk 29 lakh and a filling station Tk 24 lakh.
He also has three motor cycles valued over Tk 1.41 lakh. According to the Katchua registry office report, he owns lands worth around Tk 7.93 lakh.
The investigation officer added that Alamgir showed his Banani residence valued at Tk 8.25 lakh while the Public Works Department sets its current price at Tk 87 lakh. Similarly, his Tk 10 lakh asset in Comilla has been re-assessed at Tk 20 lakh.
Alamgir showed his bank balance to be Tk 90,000, whereas investigations found that the figure would be Tk 2.45 lakh.
Meanwhile, two other special courts yesterday recorded statements of prosecution witnesses in graft cases against detained former state ministers Mir Mohammad Nasiruddin and Aman Ullah Aman for amassing wealth through illegal means.
The courts fixed today for the next hearing.
Nasir's son Mir Mohammad Helaluddin and Aman's wife Sabera Aman are among the accused and were present at the MP Hostel yesterday.
Judge Firoz Alam of the First Special Court recorded statements of three prosecution witnesses including the complainant of the case against Aman and his wife.
Sabera was taken to the court in an ambulance. She was on a stretcher while her husband stood in the dock.
Judge AK Roy of the Second Special Court recorded statements of three prosecution witnesses in the case filed against Mir Nasir and his son.
Mir Nasir, who too was brought in from a hospital, was lying on the dock floor during the proceedings.