Vol. 5 Num 1120 Wed. July 25, 2007  
Front Page

Hasina formally charged with extortion
Rehana's name included in charge sheet as investigation 'found' her involvement; AL rejects it

Police yesterday pressed charges against detained Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina, her sister Sheikh Rehana and cousin Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim in a Tk 3 crore extortion case.

In the charge sheet submitted to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's (CMM) Court, Dhaka, Rehana's name was included among the accused as the investigation has found "her involvement with the extortion".

Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Gulshan Police Station Obaidul Haque, also investigation officer (IO) of the case, prayed for a warrant for her arrest. Showing her as a fugitive, he also sought an order for attachment of her properties.

Hasina, also a former prime minister, expressed shock at the inclusion of her younger sister's name in the charge sheet when she [Rehana] was not even in the country at the time of the "so-called extortion".

The AL has rejected the charge sheet, saying nowhere it has been mentioned that Hasina received the money.

In her reaction from the United States, Rehana yesterday dismissed the charges as false and fabricated. One of the two surviving daughters of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, she said it's nothing but an attempt like that on August 15, 1975 to destroy their family.

The court fixed August 15 as the date for hearing on the charge sheet. It will also decide on that day whether to issue an arrest warrant against Rehana.

Azam J Chowdhury, managing director of Eastcoast Trading Pvt Ltd, filed the case against Hasina and Selim on June 13 for extorting from him Tk 2.99 crore for the work of Siddhirganj Power Plant in Narayanganj.

The joint forces on July 16 arrested the AL chief in connection with the case and later on that day a magistrate court sent her to a sub-jail on the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban complex.

Former health minister and AL presidium member Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, who was made the prime accused, was detained on May 29. He was shown arrested in the case on June 14, and four days later, placed on a two-day remand.

In a packed court room, IO Obaidul Haque submitted the charge sheet under sections 385(extortion)/109 (abetment)/34 (criminal liability) of the penal code. He did not include in those section 19J (1) of the Emergency Power Rules, 2007 though the home ministry in a letter to the court on July 16 asked for the case to be brought under the emergency rules.

According to the charge sheet, Selim on June 21 confessed to a magistrate that directed by Hasina he had taken the money from the businessman. He also admitted to giving Rehana Tk 1 crore of the amount.

Twenty-four people including the complainant and the magistrate, who recorded the confessional statement, were shown prosecution witnesses.

The IO said that there are 11 more cases under investigation and awaiting trial at different courts. Those were filed with Tejgaon, Ramna, Cantonment and Paltan police stations.

Legal experts yesterday told The Daily Star that the case is generally triable at a special tribunal. If it is taken under the emergency power rules, the trial will have to be completed within 45 workdays.

In the event of the charges being proved, the former premier will have to face a sentence of up to 14 years in prison and not less than five years or fine or both, the experts said.

In the first information report, Azam mentioned that Sheikh Selim wanted to be the local agent of Russian company Techno Prom Export (TPE) that won the contract for setting up the power plant at Siddhirganj in 2000.

On different occasions, he tried to influence the TPE chief to agree to this but in vain.

Under repeated pressure from the AL leader, Azam whose company became the local agent of the TPE, met him at his Banani residence and requested him to work as a consultant for the second phase of their work. He told the then health minister that he would be given hefty remuneration, the FIR said.

Fuming over the proposal, Selim said he would stop the work with the help of Hasina, the then prime minister, if he did not get a commission.

He also threatened that Azam would not be able to withdraw any bill from the Power Development Board (PWD) if he did not pay him the commission. The threats were issued in June and July, 2000, the complainant said.

In July, 2000, they reached a verbal agreement that Selim would be given two percent commission amounting to $5.8 lakh (a little over Tk 2.99 crore), Azam continued.

He was paid the sum in eight cheques of Standard Chartered Bank and Southeast Bank between October 24, 2000 and February 14, 2001 at his residence.

After getting the money, the AL leader did not interfere with the work. Many including executives of his company are aware of the payment, the complainant said.

Sources said police are likely to submit within a week charge sheet in two other extortion cases filed against Hasina with Tejgaon Police Station on April 9 and June 13.

Of the cases, AL leader and businessman Noor Ali filed one for extorting Tk 5 crore for mediating between the PDB and his firm over a power plant in 1997.

Tajul Islam Farooq, chairman of Westmont Power Company, filed the other case under non-bailable sections of the penal code. He complained of extortion and abuse of power by Hasina when she was the prime minister in 1998.

Earlier on April 12, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) pressed charges against her in connection with Paltan killings on October 28 last year.

Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Selim & Sheikh Rehana