Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com
Published: 2020-09-21 10:11:41 BdST
A three-member bench of the Appellate Division headed by Justice Muhammad Imman Ali passed the order on Monday after hearing the anti-graft agency's appeal against the bail order in favour of Khalidi, passed by the High Court on Aug 26.
“Why are you wasting our time by bringing this appeal to the Appellate Division?” Justice Imman Ali said in a rebuke to lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan who argued for the ACC at the virtual hearing.
Former law ministers Barrister Shafique Ahmed and Abdul Matin Khasru along with the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association AM Amin Uddin represented Khalidi. The team was aided by Barrister Mahbub Shafique, Advocate Noman Hossain Talukder and Mohammad Ehsan Habib.
Khalidi's lawyer Abdul Matin Khasru dismissed the ACC's allegations that the money was inconsistent with Khalidi's known income.
"The ACC alleges that he acquired wealth beyond his known source of income. To this, we replied that the funds came from a lawful source of income. The High Court heard the case and granted him eight weeks' anticipatory bail."
"But within four weeks of the order, the ACC has applied to scrap the bail. The Appellate Division has asked why they want to have the bail order cancelled but the ACC could not provide a satisfactory answer. The Appellate Division then dismissed their application."
The apex court also affirmed the High Court's authority to grant bail in the case while noting that Khalidi did not abuse the order, according to Khasru.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
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.
The ACC had earlier moved the chamber judge of the Appellate Division to overturn the bail order issued by the High Court. But the virtual chamber court of Justice Md Nuruzzaman refused to stay the bail order, paving the way for a full bench hearing on Sept 21.
The case alleges that Khalidi deposited Tk 420 million into different bank accounts after receiving the money “through fraud [and] in an illegal way by creating fake documents”.
But the ACC case dossier itself said that the money came through the sale of company shares owned by bdnews24.com and Khalidi, and it was indeed the same money deposited in the accounts of four banks.
In his opening statement at the hearing, Khurshid Alam Khan asserted that the funds found in Khalidi's accounts came from an "unknown source", informing the court that all his bank accounts had been frozen.
He went on to explain that the ACC had moved the Appellate Division's chamber judge with a motion to stay the High Court's bail order to Khalidi but the judge instead ordered a full-bench hearing of the application.
At that point, Justice Imman Ali interjected, asking what the ACC's objections were to the bail order. "What are you looking for? Won't this man appear in court? What's the problem?"
"This is only an anticipatory bail. It is a preliminary order. Why are you wasting time on this? You're wasting time on a technical matter. What's the problem with an anticipatory bail?” Justice Ali said.
The other two judges of the appellate panel were Justice Mirza Hussain Haider and Justice Abu Bakar Siddiquee.
Khalidi, who consistently denies the allegation of corruption, told the media at the beginning of the ACC investigation that bdnews24.com did stories that “hurt a very powerful lobby”, and are “paying the price” for what he believes is good, exemplary journalism done by his colleagues.
The High Court on Aug 26 granted Khalidi an eight-week anticipatory bail in the case. In an instant reaction to the High Court ruling, Khalidi had said he was left 'shocked' and 'surprised' by the charges levelled at 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 in August.
Khalidi referred to articles run by bdnews24.com addressing the allegations stacked against him.
“There are two allegations: one is that the money was earned through unscrupulous means. The other is that BRAC EPL, a subsidiary of BRAC Bank, didn't 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.”
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.