Legal tangles and bureaucracy, in particular, get in the way of recovering graft money
In 2009, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) sued agriculturist Javed Iqbal, director of an agriculture project implemented during the BNP-Jamaat government, for allegedly embezzling Tk60 crore from the project.
On 9 August 2016, a special judge court in Dhaka gave an order to confiscate Tk51 crore worth of his movable and immovable assets and fine him Tk50 crore.
Accordingly, towards the end of that year, the ACC sent a letter to the Dhaka district administration to take possession of Javed's properties in favour of the state.
But five years down the line, the administration has neither been able to seize his properties nor realise the fine. A few months ago, Javed died.
The Javed Iqbal case is just an example of how the authorities have long been failing to realise fines from and seize assets of persons convicted of corruption even after court orders.
Legal tangles coupled with official procedures are mainly hindering their efforts to execute the graft money recovery orders.
The government could realise only Tk3,500 crore out of around Tk10,000 crore in fines and seizure in over 11 years since 2009.
An official of the Dhaka deputy commissioner's (DC) office told The Business Standard that Javed Iqbal bought two houses and a plot in the capital in the name of his father-in-law, mother-in-law and a brother. Realising that the district administration would take possession of the properties, they filed a writ petition with the High Court that halted the confiscation.
The DC office could not confiscate the properties that the owners claimed as their personal earnings.
Shahidul Islam, deputy commissioner of Dhaka, said he does not know anything about agriculturist Javed Iqbal's case.
"In many cases, it is not possible to recover fines and confiscate assets because of appeals with the High Court against verdicts given by judicial courts. There are some other legal complications too. However, the district administration is working to implement other verdicts," he added.
As per the law, the administration of the district – that a convicted belongs to – will be tasked with realising fines and seizing properties from them, sources said.
Since 2009, the ACC has sent letters to the Dhaka DC office to collect fines from and confiscate properties of about 400 such convicts. But the administration has only been able to take actions in a case or two.
According to the ACC, letters have been sent to the Dhaka DC office after the verdicts of 51 cases in 2013, 89 cases in 2014, 29 cases in 2015, 39 cases in 2016 and 42 cases in 2017. In these cases, there have been court orders to collect fines and confiscate properties amounting to around Tk4,000 crore.
Following a court verdict in 2015, the confiscation of a six-storey building of BNP leader Sadek Hossain Khoka in Gulshan worth over Tk10 crore was one of its rare successes in recovering fines and seizing properties.
Seeking anonymity, a DC office official told TBS that they do not have enough manpower.
"In many cases, we could not seize properties as addresses of fugitive convicts were wrong. Again, convicted corrupts built properties anonymously," the official added.
"On many occasions, the ACC investigation accused fugitives without verifying their correct addresses. Last year, the DC office went to take possession of the house of a bank official after a verdict in a corruption case. But it was his father-in-law's house. So, it was not possible to confiscate the house. There are many such examples," the official added.
TBS has obtained a list of ACC cases that got verdicts between 2013 and 2017. In the four years, court orders were given to realise around Tk6,000 crore in fine and confiscation of assets.
A TBS investigation reveals that the convicts have not yet appealed to the High Court against 515 out of 1,003 cases filed in those five years. Although there have been appeals in 488 cases, those are still pending with stay orders on fines and confiscations of properties.
In another example of embezzlement, in 1999, the then Anti-Corruption Bureau filed a case against Kiran Bhuiyan, then chairman of Logong Union Parishad in Khagrachhari's Panchhari upazila, for embezzling Tk10 lakh from the council, according to ACC sources.
In 2013, a court sentenced Kiran to one year in jail in absentia. The court also fined him Tk10 lakh and gave an order to confiscate Tk10 lakh worth of his property.
The ACC said the Khagrachhari DC office had been asked to implement the verdict several times in the last eight years but nothing was done. There is no legal impediment to implement the verdict.
Also in 1999, the Anti-Corruption Bureau filed another case against SM Elahi, a sub-registrar of an upazila in Dhaka, for registering a property worth hundreds of crores of taka at a low price.
In 2013, the court sentenced him to a 10-year jail, fined him Tk20 crore and ordered the confiscation of assets worth Tk18 crore. The money has not been recovered yet.
A letter was sent to the Dhaka DC office to take possession of his four-storey house in Malibagh. Besides, another letter was sent to the DC concerned to seize his property in Rajbari, the convict's home district. But nothing has been realised yet. The ACC said fugitive SM Elahi is now in Canada.
In 2000, the Anti-Corruption Bureau filed a case against Rafiqul Islam, an official equivalent to the joint secretary rank, for embezzling Tk41 crore from a government project.
In January 2017, the court sentenced the officer to 10 years in jail, fined him Tk41 crore and ordered the confiscation of his assets worth Tk41 crore. Rafiqul was also sacked from his post after the verdict.
After serving six months in jail, he appealed to the High Court and the court stayed the fine and the confiscation order until the appeal was settled. At first, Rafiqul took bail for six months. After that, he extended the bail period several times. Now, he is running a business with the bail extended till the appeal is settled. The appeal has been pending for the last four years.
When contacted, ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmud said the court usually orders the DC to realise compensation and confiscate assets as per the Criminal Procedure Code. On many occasions, the ACC is given the responsibility and it does so properly.
The ACC has collected more than Tk3,000 crore in fines and confiscated assets in the last few years in different cases.
The ACC has a Property Recovery Unit for collecting fines and confiscating properties as per court orders.
"In the last two years, the asset management department has recovered a large amount of money and assets by acting on compensation and confiscation orders in many cases. And the properties confiscated by the ACC before the verdicts have been handed over to the government through the DC offices after the verdicts," Iqbal Mahmud said.
A source in the ACC told TBS that the Property Recovery unit has recently confiscated assets worth hundreds of crores of taka from Malek, a driver of the Directorate General of Health Services, and Afzal, an office assistant of the same department. It has also confiscated movable and immovable properties of those involved in the scandal of People's Leasing and International Leasing, two non-bank financial organisations.
The unit has also confiscated immovable properties worth around Tk36 crore from former BNP lawmaker Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu and his wife.
According to a source in the Property Recovery Unit, the ACC conducted drives to recover fines and confiscate assets in 16 cases last year. It has deposited around Tk100 crore in the government's coffer after implementing the verdicts in four cases.
Supreme Court Lawyer Dr Shahdin Malik said, "Most of the people against whom the ACC has filed cases are influential. The organisation often sues influential people who are vocal critics of the government. These cases seem to be politically motivated."
"Even then, those who are convicted have the money. And many things are possible in Bangladesh if you have money, you can manage the DC office or the ACC."
ACC chief lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan told TBS, "In our country, the court's duty is over after the verdict. But in the United States or the United Kingdom, courts want follow-up reports after such fine and confiscation orders. They give the next order based on the reports. But this procedure is not effective here even though we have such a system according to the criminal procedure. That is why we are facing this problem."
He said even though many such cases of negligence in collecting fines and confiscating assets are reported to the court, they are not taken into account. If the court asks a DC for any report, the DC says it has not been found or the process is going on.
Attorney General AM Amin Uddin said, "The non-implementation of such verdicts will be brought to the notice of the chief justice very soon. Because the verdicts of these cases have come from the court after spending a long time. In addition, a lot of time, labour and money are spent by the government."
He also said steps would be taken soon after sitting with the ACC lawyers to settle the fines and confiscation orders suspended by the High Court.
Citizens for Good Governance Secretary Badiul Alam Majumder said there are questions about the transparency of the ACC's investigation. There are also questions about the transparency of the judicial process. As a result, a question naturally arises about the transparency of the implementation of the verdict.
He said the fines will be deposited in the government treasury, and the confiscated money would go to the government, and to those from whom the money was embezzled. So, it would be better if the court verdict is implemented in accordance with the law.