Senior Special Judge KM Imrul Kayes on Tuesday passed the bail order following Khalidi’s court appearance.
The High Court on Aug 26 granted Khalidi an eight-week anticipatory bail in the case, which was upheld by a three-member bench of the Appellate Division on Sept 21.
The ACC contends that a Tk 420 million fund that Khalidi deposited into different bank accounts came from an “unknown source”.
Khalidi consistently denied any wrongdoing.
After bdnews24.com announced a Tk 500 million investment by an asset management company in the news publisher in October 2019, the ACC began examining the deal and subsequently started a case against Khalidi on Jul 30.
Advocate Kazi Md Najibullah Hiru, former president of Dhaka Bar Association, and former secretaries Abdur Rahman Howladar and Mizanur Rahman Mamun led Khalidi’s legal team to the trial court on Tuesday. The team was aided by Prokash Biswas, Noman Hossain Talukdar, Ehsan Habib, Omar Farook, Jibananda Chanda Jayanta, Md Parvez, Khaled Mosharraf, Monir Hossain, Bikash Majumdar, Latifur Rahman and Shoebuzzaman Supta.
Mahmud Hossain Jahangir represented the ACC, the anti-graft agency that prosecuted Khalidi.
The complaint filed by the ACC was not applicable to Khalidi, his lawyer Mizanur Rahman told reporters. “It’s a baseless case only to harras him, which we were able to explain to the court. The court has approved his bail until the next date. We'll get to know about the next date from the documents,” Rahman said.
Asked by the judge at the beginning of the hearing, the lawyers for Khalidi informed the court that the ACC had not asked the editor to submit his wealth statement.
At one stage, the judge said, “You rushed to the Appellate Division after the High Court had granted him bail. What’s the use of it?”
During the hearing, ACC counsel Jahangir said the charges in the case state that bdnews24.com’s shares were overvalued.
Najibullah Hiru shot back: “An Akij share with the same price was sold at Tk 600,000. How come our shares were overvalued?
“And the investor himself published a report saying how much was paid. The transactions took place between two accounts. The funds are parked in fixed deposits. Where is the irregularity?”
Mamun, one of Khalidi’s lawyers, said bdnews24.com sold the shares at a lower rate than expected even after the company was valued at Tk 3.71 billion.
ALLEGATIONS AND RESPONSES
In an instant reaction to the High Court ruling in August, Khalidi had said he was 'shocked' and 'surprised' by the charges levelled against him by the ACC while questioning the motive behind the case.
“If you look at the allegations, you'll find that the FIR is riddled with mistakes. There isn't a word of truth in it. This has been done to create confusion among the people and humiliate me," he told reporters at the time.
There are two allegations: one is that the money was earned through unscrupulous means and the other is that BRAC EPL, a subsidiary of BRAC Bank, did not conduct a valuation of the company.
Khalidi said BRAC EPL sent draft versions of information memorandum of bdnews24.com in 2017 after signing a non-disclosure agreement. "We have also submitted copies of our correspondences with BRAC EPL's managing director and CEO,” he said.
BRAC EPL sent another email in 2018, attaching the revised information memorandum of bdnews24.com with the valuation of Tk 3.71 billion or $46 million, which meant each share was valued at Tk 37,100.
After the ACC began examining the so-called allegation of corruption, Khalidi in an article detailed the circumstances under which bdnews24.com entered the deal, where the money was, why he himself sold some of his shares and what happened after the deal.
“The matter has been probed by more than one state agency—publicly as well as, may I dare say now, behind the scenes—because the allegations or rumours/gossips (spread through social media and other means in the lead-up to the ACC move) were of serious nature,” he wrote.
“The cruellest part was, those who orchestrated it all knew all too well that money only changed hands between two companies incorporated in Bangladesh and operated under Bangladesh laws. Yet the vengeful and powerful people were given free rein when they acted from behind the stage. And those who helped them spread the propaganda knew it too. And, again, those who prepared “reports” meant for people at the very top were fully aware of it too.”
“Whose purpose are they trying to serve by trying to harm arguably the lone independent news publisher in Bangladesh which has been credited with many firsts, globally and nationally?
“Why was there an attempt to tarnish the image of both bdnews24.com and the individual who runs it?” he asked.
After receiving a letter from the anti-graft agency, Khalidi appeared in the ACC twice in November 2019.
The letter received by Khalidi on Nov 5 said his statement was required in connection with the allegations of “transferring a huge amount of money” by “hiding location by himself and bdnews24.com”, and “earning wealth inconsistent with his known income through illegal activities”.
The authorities moved swiftly after bdnews24.com announced the investment by LR Global in a report on Oct 13, 2019, saying it will spend the money on the expansion of news automation and creativity.
The disclosure first prompted a decision from the Securities and Exchange Commission to “halt” the deal. For its part, the ACC soon afterwards weighed in, leaving certain bank accounts of Khalidi and bdnews24.com frozen.