Bangladesh’s anti-graft office has charged the former chief justice with corruption nearly two years after he fled the country saying he was forced to resign, an official said Thursday.
Surendra Kumar Sinha, who had led the South Asian nation’s Supreme Court to a landmark verdict on judicial independence that went against the government, left Bangladesh in late 2017 amid widespread allegations he had been pressured to step aside.
Opposition groups raised fears that his departure was a blow to the credibility of the judiciary in the Muslim-majority country, ruled by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party since 2009.
On Wednesday, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a lawsuit against Sinha and 10 others including a former bank chief executive on charges of graft, money laundering and abuse of power.
They were charged with using fake credit papers to launder 40 million taka ($475,000) and transfer it to the account of Sinha, ACC secretary Dilwar Bakht said.
“The case was filed at the district office of the ACC yesterday (Wednesday),” he said.
This is the first time in Bangladesh’s history that a former chief justice has been charged with any offence.
Sinha’s unceremonious departure came after a rare statement from the Supreme Court in October 2017 said other judges had accused him of graft and refused to sit with him at the top bench.
Just months earlier, Sinha had led the Supreme Court in scrapping parliament’s power to sack top judges, a move hailed by lawyers as a crucial safeguard for a secular judiciary in the nation of 168 million.
The ruling overturned a 2014 constitutional change introduced by Hasina allowing the parliament -— controlled by her party —- to remove top judges.
In a written statement issued before he left the country, former Chief Justice Sinha expressed dismay over criticism he had faced from the government over that ruling and said he was a “bit worried about the independence of the judiciary”.
Sinha, who has not returned to Bangladesh, later wrote the book “A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights & Democracy”, detailing the circumstances that prompted him to quit his position.
He said he was forced to resign and compelled to flee the country against his wishes after a security agency threatened him.
In the book, Sinha expressed fear that a businessman acquaintance of his might be killed along with his family if he did not tender his resignation.
AFP with additional input from GVS News desk