REF: The verdict in the sensational 10-truck arms haul case will be pronounced on Thursday, nearly 10 years after the seizure took place.
Chittagong Metropolitan Sessions Judge and Special Tribunal-1 judge SM Mojibur Rahman had set the date to deliver the verdict on Jan 13 after hearing the closing arguments of the counsels.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, former State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar, and two senior officials of the National Security Intelligence (NSI) are accused in these high-profile cases.
Leader of the Indian separatist outfit United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Paresh Barua is also accused in the two cases filed under the Arms Act and Special Powers Act for smuggling of arms. But he is absconding.
During the trial, the state alleged that the weapons and ammunition were smuggled in for ULFA with the backing from the then BNP-Jamaat alliance government. They also alleged obstructions to the cases’ investigation during that government’s tenure.
After further probing, 50 people were charged on the arms case and 52 people were charged on the smuggling case. As many as 265 people were made witnesses in both cases.
Some of the accused gave confessional statement under Section 164 of the Bangladesh Penal Code. But several of them alleged that the confessions were forcibly taken.
After two years of hearing, Judge SM Mojibur Rahman had set Jan 30 to deliver the verdict after the defence concluded its arguments.
He also told the defence to make its last submission of arguments, if any, by Jan 23.
State counsel Kamal Uddin Ahmed expressed satisfaction over finalisation of the verdict day.
He told bdnews24.com on Jan 13: “The verdict is coming after a long hurdle overcoming obstructions from the defence. I am satisfied with this.”
Ahmed, who led the prosecution team during the trial, also hoped for highest punishment to the accused.
The maximum punishment in smuggling case is death penalty while life imprisonment is the maximum in arms case.
Ahmed mentioned the hurdles they faced during the trial. “Investigation was properly conducted during the (BNP-led) 4-Party alliance government. Main accused were not implicated. There were many obstructions during further probing.”
Police had seized 10 trucks of weapons and ammunition from the state-owned Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd (CUFL) jetty in the port city while being offloaded from trawlers on the early hours of April 2, 2004. Around 1,500 boxes containing submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, submachine carbines, Chinese pistols, rocket shells and launchers, hand grenades and bullets were seized.
The seizure of the huge cache of arms had caused widespread talks in the country. Later that day, Karnafuli Police Station’s then OC Ahadur Rahman filed the two separate cases.
Five investigation officers conducted the probing in the cases.
On June 11, 2004, CID’s ASP Kabir Uddin submitted the chargesheet on the arms case accusing 43 people while charges were pressed against 45 people on the smuggling case on Nov 9 by CID’s ASP Nawsher Ali Khan.
The trial began on July 6, 2005, with the deposition of plaintiff Ahadur Rahman. As the deposition continued until Aug 14, 2007, 31 people on the arms case and 28 people on the smuggling case had given their statement until then.
The prosecution pleaded for further investigation on Nov 20, 2007, during the caretaker government’s tenure. The court had accepted their plea and also ordered for seven observations.
Then, CID’s ASP Ismail Hossain took over the investigation and he was followed by CID’s Chittagong zone Senior ASP Moniruzzaman Chowdhury on Jan 29, 2009.
Chowdhury submitted the supplementary chargesheet on both cases on June 26, 2011, accusing 50 people on the arms case and 52 people on the smuggling case. Total 265 people were made witnesses in both cases.
After charges were formed on the cases again on Nov 15, 2011, witness deposition began again from Nov 29.
Deposition on the cases ended on Oct 10 last year, with 56 people on the arms case and 53 people on the smuggling case giving statements.
The prosecution began cross-examining the accused from Oct 23. They had examined 38 of the accused, both arrested and out on bail.
The state began arguments on Nov 25 last year and the defence finished counter arguments for eight of the accused on Jan 13 this year.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami was also brought in the court during the defence’s counter argument. He is also facing trial for on charges of committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.
‘Involved’ ministers and intelligence officials
No one was initially accused in the arms haul cases, but investigation reports found involvement of 11 persons.
Among them are ministers of the BNP-led Four-Party alliance government and some former senior intelligence officials.
Further investigations found more persons ‘involved’ in the cases.
Among them are — Jamaat-e-Islami chief and former industries minister Matiur Rahman Nizami, BNP leader and former State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar, Former Industries Secretary Nurul Amin, India’s ULFA leader Paresh Barua, Former National Security Intelligence NSI) chief Major General (rtd) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury, Former NSI chief Brigadier General (rtd) Abdur Rahim, Former NSI Director Wing Commander (rtd) Shahabuddin, Former NSI Deputy Director Major (rtd) Liakat Hossain, Former NSI Field Officer (rtd) Akbar Hossain.
Accused Rezzakul Haider’s lawyer Kamrul Islam Sazzad had told the court, “Bangladesh depends on DGFI and NSI.”
“All organs of the institutions have been discussed in the cases. So they need to be changed. (I) want your directive on the verdict,” he said while the counter arguments on Jan 13.
CUFL’s former Managing Director Mohsin Uddin Talukder and general manager (admin) Enamul Haq are also accused in the cases.
Of the accused, Nurul Amin and Paresh Barua are on the run.
The 11 persons, whose names are included in the supplementary charge sheet, were taken to the court through tight security on the last day of hearings.
‘The arms were for ULFA’
Investigation Officer Moniruzzaman Chowdhury said in the charge sheet that all the arms and ammunition had been manufactured in China.
State counsel Kamal Uddin Ahmed claimed that the arms and ammunition were smuggled in for India’s United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).
Among the seized arms were 690 SMGs of MMT-56-1 model, 600 SMGs of MM-56-2 model, 150 40-MM rocket launchers, 100 Tommy guns and 200 launching grenades.
‘Government, not the state, was involved’
Defence lawyer for accused Mohsin Uddin Talukder, Fazlul Karim Bhuiyan said in the counter argument hearing that the then government had not been involved in running arms and ammunition.
“Beware that the court verdict on the cases does not leave a negative image about Bangladesh among neighbouring countries, or in the world.”
“Save the county. If it is saved, we will survive.”
Nizami’s lawyer Kofil Uddin had said, “Who are the accused in the cases if the government becomes the complainant?”
“I (Nizami) was in the government. What is called legality? What is recognised by the state is called legality. I have been accused of the cases just to politically ruin me.”
Speaking to bdnews24.com, State counsel Kamal Uddin Ahmed had said, “The then BNP-led government had a hostile attitude towards India. So, they had used the chance of smuggling in the arms for the ULFA.”
Asked whether the State’s reputation would be ruined if the former ministers are convicted, he said, “Two ministers and some intelligence officials are not all. The State is far bigger.”
“But it can be said that a part of the government was involved in it,” he said, questioning, “Why would the State take the responsibility for the crimes of individuals?”
One must, said the state counsel, be punished for committing any crime individually.