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10-truck arms cases verdict after 10 years

  • Mithun Chowdhury, Chittagong Bureau, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2014-01-14 01:23:05 BdST

The verdict on the sensational 10-truck arms haul cases will be delivered on Jan 30, nearly 10 years after the massive haul that took the nation by surprise.

Chittagong Metropolitan Sessions Judge and Special Tribunal-1 Judge SM Mojibur Rahman will hand down the judgment.

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur 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. It also alleged obstructions to the cases' investigation during that government's tenure.

After further probing, 50 people were charged in the arms case and 52 people in the smuggling case. As many as 265 people were made witnesses in both cases.

Some of the suspects gave confessional statement under Section 164 of the Bangladesh Penal Code. But several of them alleged that the confessions were taken under duress.

After two years of hearing, Judge Mojibur Rahman on Monday set Jan 30 for a verdict after the defence concluded its arguments.

He also told the defence to make its last submission of arguments, if any, by Jan 23.

In his immediate reaction, State Counsel Kamal Uddin Ahmed said he was happy with the verdict date.

He told bdnews24.com: "The verdict is due after a lot of obstructions from the defence."

Ahmed, who led the prosecution team during the trial, also hoped for highest punishment to the accused.

The highest punishment in smuggling case is death penalty while life imprisonment is the highest in arms case.

Ahmed mentioned the hurdles they faced during the trial. "Investigation was not properly conducted during the (BNP-led) Four-Party alliance government. Main accused were not implicated. There were many obstructions during further investigations."

Police had seized 10 trucks of weapons and ammunition from the state-owned Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd (CUFL) jetty in Chittagong while those were being offloaded from trawlers in the early hours of April 2, 2004.

Around 1,500 wooden 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 triggered widespread uproar. Later that day, Karnafuli Police Station’s OC Ahadur Rahman filed the two separate cases.

Five investigation officers conducted the probe in the cases.

On June 11, 2004, CID ASP Kabir Uddin submitted the chargesheet in the arms case accusing 43 people while 45 people were accused in the chargesheet on the smuggling case submitted on Nov 9 by CID 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 in the arms case and 28 people in 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 the plea and also ordered making seven observations.

Then CID ASP Ismail Hossain took over the investigation and he was succeeded by CID's Chittagong zone Senior ASP Moniruzzaman Chowdhury on Jan 29, 2009.

Chowdhury submitted the supplementary chargesheet in both cases on June 26, 2011, accusing 50 people on the arms case and 52 people on the smuggling case. Altogether 265 people were also made witnesses in both cases.

After charges were formed again on Nov 15, 2011, witness deposition began again from Nov 29.

Deposition in the cases ended on Oct 10 last year, with 56 people testifying in the arms case and 53 people in the smuggling case.

The prosecution began cross-examining the accused from Oct 23. They had examined 38 of the accused, both detained 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 Monday.

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Nizami was also brought in the court during Monday's hearing. He is also facing trial for committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.

‘Involved’ ministers and intelligence officials

No person 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.

File Photo

File Photo

Among them are former industries minister Nizami, BNP leader and former state minister Babar, former acting 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 and former NSI Field Officer (rtd) Akbar Hossain.

Accused Rezzakul Haider’s lawyer Kamrul Islam Sazzad on Monday 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 regarding the verdict.”

CUFL’s former Managing Director Mohsin Uddin Talukder and General Manager (admin) Enamul Haq are also accused in the cases.

Of the accused, Amin and Barua are on the run.

The 11 persons, whose names were included in the supplementary chargesheet, were taken to the court through tight security on Monday.

‘The arms were for ULFA’

Investigation Officer Moniruzzaman Chowdhury said in the chargesheet that all the 10 truckloads of arms and ammunition had been manufactured in China.

State counsel Kamal Uddin Ahmed also claimed that all the arms and ammunition were shipped in for the Indian separatists.

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 during Monday's hearing said 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 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 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.