DHAKA: Bangladesh’s chief justice has been accused of serious crimes including corruption by the country’s government, it emerged Saturday, as he departed for Australia expressing his fears for judicial independence in the nation.
The accusations against Surendra Kumar Sinha follow widespread speculation that he had come under pressure to take leave over a landmark verdict delivered by his court that went against the government in August.
The graft allegations emerged in a rare statement from Sinha’s own Supreme Court on Saturday, which said other top judges have refused to sit with him at the top bench after he was accused of serious crimes such as graft.
The statement said Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid had called four top judges of the Supreme Court to his palace on September 30 and handed over the documents on “11 specific allegations” against Sinha.
“They include money laundering, financial irregularities, corruption, moral degradation and other specific serious allegations ,” it said.
It said the judges held a meeting with Sinha over the charges at his residence in Dhaka and at one stage he even said clearly that he would step down if they stopped sitting with him in court. Later, on October 2, he sought a one-month leave from the President, who granted the holiday from the next day, it said.
The saga over his leave came just months after he 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 Muslim-majority nation.
In a written statement issued before his departure, Sinha said he was a “bit worried about the independence of the judiciary”, expressing dismay over criticism he has faced from the government over the August ruling on judicial dismissals.
Sinha, who insisted he would return to Bangladesh once his leave ends on November 10, rejected claims by the country’s justice minister that his absence was due to illness.
“I’m not sick. I’m not fleeing. I’ll come back,” Sinha said, adding that his leave was “in the interests of the judiciary”.
“I’m fully well, but the way a political quarter, lawyers, and especially some honourable ministers of the government and the honourable prime minister are criticising me recently over a verdict made me embarrassed.”
Bangladesh’s top bar association has repeatedly said Sinha was being forced to take leave.
“The Supreme Court Bar Association thinks he has done none of these things willingly,” said Zainul Abedin, a pro-opposition lawyer who heads the association.
“The government has done these activities after putting enormous pressure on him,” Abedin told AFP, accusing the government of hounding the judiciary.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina brought in a constitutional change allowing the parliament — controlled by her Awami League party — to remove top judges in 2014.
But that was overturned by the Supreme Court ruling in August.—AFP