DHAKA: A Bangladeshi court on Tuesday sentenced in absentia former top judge Surendra Kumar Sinha, the country's first chief justice from the minority Hindu community, to 11 years in jail on two counts of graft in a case over money laundering and breach of trust.
Dhaka Special Judge 4 Shaikh Nazmul Alam sentenced the former chief justice, who currently lives in the United States, to seven years in prison for money laundering and another four years for criminal breach of trust.
The prison terms will run concurrently.
"(Justice) SK Sinha is the principal beneficiary of the laundered money," the court said in its verdict.
Sinha, 70, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in a case involving the laundering of Tk 4 crore (USD 4,70,000) taken in credit from the Farmers Bank, now known as the Padma Bank.
The judgment came four years after Sinha resigned while on a visit abroad as the government alleged he was involved in corrupt practices.
Sinha served as the 21st Chief Justice of Bangladesh from January, 2015 to November, 2017.
Sinha, Bangladesh's first chief justice from the minority Hindu community, has alleged that he was forced to resign because he opposed Bangladesh's incumbent "undemocratic" and "authoritarian" regime.
Among the 10 others tried in the case, Tangail residents, Md Shahjahan and Niranjan Chandra Saha, were acquitted as the charges against them were not proven.
The rest have been given different terms of jail and slapped with fines.
AKM Shamim, former managing director of Farmers Bank, has been jailed for four years and fined Tk 50,000.
Ranjit Chandra Saha, a personal aide to Justice Sinha, and his wife Shantri Roy got three years each and fined Tk 10,000.
Five other former officials of Farmers Bank were sentenced to three years in jail each and fined Tk 25,000.
Other than Sinha, three others were tried in absentia as they were on the run.
According to the case statement, the other accused managed to obtain a loan of Tk 4 crore (USD 4,70,000) using forged documents and transferred the amount to Sinha's personal account through pay-order.
The former chief justice later transferred the money to another account in cash, cheques and pay-orders, an act which the prosecution said was a punishable offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) pressed charges against Sinha and the 10 others, saying it found evidence of fraud involving the transactions.
In his autobiography "A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy", Sinha said he was forced to resign in 2017 following intimidation and threats, drawing a sharp reaction from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who had accused some anti-government newspapers of backing him.
In a media interview after the book launch in Washington DC, Sinha had urged India to support the rule of law and democracy in Bangladesh.
The ACC last month filed another case against Sinha accusing him of abuse of office in getting a land plot in posh Uttara area from the Dhaka city development authority (RAJUK) where he constructed a nine-storey building.
The graft body also alleged that the money spent for procuring the plot and constructing the building was 'not earned through legal means'.
A Dhaka court last year indicted Sinha to be tried in absentia on graft charges five months after an order was issued for his arrest.