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As Haji Salim lands in jail, his membership of parliament is on the line

  • Sajidul Haque,
    Published: 2022-05-23 03:59:22 BdST

Awami League leader Haji Mohammad Salim has landed in jail after surrendering to court following a High Court order that confirmed his 10-year imprisonment in a wealth case, putting him at risk of losing his membership of parliament.

According to Article 66 of the constitution, a person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of parliament who has been, on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.

After the High Court delivered the verdict in March 2021, Sayeed Ahmed Raza, the lawyer for the Dhaka-7 MP, said he believes his client’s membership of parliament will remain intact until the final disposal of the case. The defence will appeal against the ruling, he said.

Khurshid Alam Khan, counsel for the Anti-Corruption Commission which started the case one and a half decade ago, said at the time he thought Salim has lost the right to continue as a member of parliament for his “moral turpitude”.

Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury will have the final say on the matter. The ACC’s job is to send copies of the verdict to the authorities, he added.

Speaking to after Salim surrendered on Sunday, Shirin said parliament must be informed officially about the jailing of an MP before it makes a decision. “The question of discussing the issue will arise only after we are informed formally,” she said.

An official at the Parliament Secretariat, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said: “The time to say anything on Haji Salim has not arrived. He may appeal and seek bail from the High Court. Those issues must be settled first.”

A month before the High Court confirmed the verdict in the case against Haji Salim, parliament revoked the membership of Mohammad Shahid Islam alias Kazi Papul, who was elected from Lakshmipur-2 seat, after his jailing by a Kuwaiti court for four years for human trafficking and money laundering.

The ACC prosecuted Haji Salim during the military-backed caretaker government in October 2007 on charges of having wealth beyond means and concealing the information.

A special court in April 2008 sentenced him to total 13 years in jail -- 10 years on charges of achieving the wealth from unknown sources and three years for hiding the information.

It also sentenced his wife Gulshan Ara Begum to three years in prison on charges of abetting the crimes of her husband.

After hearing Salim and Gulshan’s pleas against the verdict, the High Court acquitted them of the charges in January 2011.

The ACC then challenged the High Court judgment in the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division.

The top court in January 2015 scrapped the High Court verdict and ordered a rehearing on Salim’s appeal.

After the rehearing, the panel of Justice Md Moinul Haque Chowdhury and Justice AKM Zahirul Hoque upheld Salim’s 10-year jail sentence for having wealth beyond means, but acquitted him of the charges of hiding information.

The High Court dismissed the appeal of Gulshan Ara against her conviction by the lower court in the case as she died while the plea was being heard.

The High Court also ordered him to surrender within one month after the lower court receives the verdict.

Haji Salim had until May 24 to fulfil the order to surrender but created a controversy by travelling abroad on Apr 30.

At the time, an aide to the lawmaker said Salim left for Bangkok for medical treatment and would return shortly. Salim did return on May 5.

However, the controversy did not end there. Parallels were drawn with the situation faced by BNP chief Khaleda Zia, who is barred from going abroad for treatment for her prison-term in graft cases.

There were intense debates about the legality of the government allowing the MP to fly abroad. ACC counsel Khurshid Alam Khan said Haji Selim did not have any “legal option” to travel abroad as a convict.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, however, did not agree with the ACC’s legal opinion, saying Salim’s trip abroad was legal.

Haji Salim is a member of the advisory council of the Awami League’s Dhaka Metropolitan South Unit. He had worked as a joint general secretary of the undivided Dhaka Metropolitan Unit of the ruling party.

In 2014, he contested as an independent candidate for the seat and defeated the Awami League’s Mostofa Jalal Mohiuddin. Salim was reelected in 2018 on the Awami League ticket.

Haji Salim made headlines over allegations of grabbing land illegally after his son Erfan Selim’s arrest following assault on a naval officer in October 2020. A Rapid Action Battalion-run mobile court jailed Erfan for unlawful possession of walkie-talkies and liquor after a raid on their house in Old Dhaka.