The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court has published its full verdict regarding the return of Tk 615 crore 55 lakh (Tk 6.15 billion approximately) in taxes collected from various individuals and companies during the military-backed government of 2007-08.
The verdict stated that according to the constitution, no official of any intelligence agency has the right or authority to collect taxes. The 89-page verdict of the Appellate Division was posted on the Supreme Court’s website on Tuesday.
The verdict was passed on 16 May by a four-member bench of the Appellate Division, headed by chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha. The other three judges on the bench were justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, justice Hasan Fayez Siddiqui, and justice Mirza Hossain Haider.
The full verdict mentioned that though the intelligence agency DGFI at the time denied any involvement in forcefully extracting money; Bangladesh Bank files clearly revealed that colonel Mohammed Afzal Nasir Bhuiyan collected this money on behalf of DGFI. The letter he sent to the Bangladesh Bank governor with the money was written on the DGFI letterhead.
The verdict stated, after Bangladesh became independent, the National Security Intelligence (NSI) was the country’s sole intelligence agency. In 1972 the Directorate of Forces Intelligence (DFI) was created and its role was restricted to sharing intelligence information within the armed forces.
While admonishing the DGFI of the period called “1/11” following the takeover on 11 January 2007, the Appellate Division also criticised Bangladesh Bank and the government for not taking measures to return this money after the emergency was withdrawn. Placing a six-point guideline regarding civil control over the armed forces, the Supreme Court stated that there should be a constitutional guarantee in a democracy to protect the state, including the armed forces, from two kinds of danger. One is the politicians who have high military aspirations, and the other is military officers who have high political ambitions.
The verdict expressed disapproval towards barrister Amir-ul Islam who was the Bangladesh Bank lawyer, saying it was shocked by his arguments in this regard.
Barrister Amir-ul Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “This verdict will be a matter of study and reference for lawyers, academics, researchers and students of law. As for myself, I stick to my arguments.”
Petitioners and lawyers have claimed that at the time businessmen were forced to go to a certain office controlled by DGFI and had to wait there from morning till night, for days. Eminent businessmen and wealthy persons were detained, incarcerated and even tortured both physically and mentally. The verdict condemned such actions.
The verdict said that even though DGFI submitted the collected funds to Bangladesh Bank, they tried to justify their actions. But it was not for them to carry out duties of the executive, nor support the unlawful actions of a section of the executive. Yet the government played a silent role. Bangladesh Bank and its chief executive aided and abetted an intelligence agency in its inhuman actions.
The six points presented in the verdict as guidelines are:
1. There will be a clear legal and constitutional framework. It will define the fundamental relationship between the state and the armed forces.
2. Parliament will have a significant role in enacting defence and security-related laws. The objectives here will be having influence in determining national strategies, maintaining transparency in decisions pertaining to defence and security policies, approving budgets and controlling the expansion of military strength in keeping with expenditure capacity.
3. The senior leadership within the armed forces will be accountable to the government through a civil branch of the public administration. Generally speaking, a ministry or defence department will be responsible for this monitoring and guidance.
4. There will be the presence of a well-trained and experienced armed force. They will be respectful towards a civil authority which will bear its operational costs.
5. There will be a developed civil society which will have confidence in the democratic institutions and values. There will be consensus among the people of the country regarding the role and objectives of the armed force as part of the political culture.
6. There will be a reasonable civilian presence within the defence community, with the capacity to discuss and debate defence and security policies.
Deposits made of Tk 1229 crore
On 22 March 2010 the finance minister AMA Muhith informed parliament that during the “1/11” caretaker government rule, Tk 1228 crore 95 lakh 64 thousand 925 (Tk 12.29 billion approx) had been collected from various persons and organisations and deposited with the central bank.
When the mahajote or grand alliance government came to power in 2009, demands were raised for the return of these funds. Cases were filed too. The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, also made a commitment to return the money. The finance minister told the media that it was difficult to return the money once it went into the government treasury.