Bangladesh chief justice resigns after graft allegations

DHAKA (AFP): Bangladesh on Saturday said its chief justice has tendered his resignation from overseas in the wake of government corruption allegations, as opposition groups raised fears that his departure was a blow to judicial independence.

Surendra Kumar Sinha, who led the Supreme Court to a landmark verdict on judicial oversight in August that went against the government, left Bangladesh last month amid widespread rumours that he had been pressured to step aside.

The row with the government began after the top court scrapped the 16th constitutional amendment, stripping the parliament of its power to impeach apex court judges. He had drawn criticism from the ruling party for his observations made in the verdict, according to the Dhaka Tribune.

“His resignation letter has reached the Bangabhaban (presidential palace),” Joynal Abedin, press secretary to President Abdul Hamid, told AFP, adding that once submitted his termination was irreversible.

Sinha, who is believed to be visiting his daughter in Canada, was accused of serious crimes last month including money laundering and financial irregularities, just a day after he departed on a month-long leave, expressing his fears for judicial independence in the nation.

Former law and justice minister Moudud Ahmed, now a member of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), called the resignation “unprecedented and shameful”.

“We’ve never heard before of a sitting chief justice resigning,” he told AFP. “He has been forced to resign…. This is a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary.”

A rare statement from the Supreme Court in October said other top judges had refused to sit with him at the top bench after he was accused of serious crimes such as graft.

This is the first time in the 47 years since Bangladesh’s independence, during which 21 judges have served in the position, that a chief justice has stepped down before the end of their term. He was supposed to retire after 81 days, on January 21 next year, according to the Dhaka Tribune.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Zainul Abedin alleged that the government forced the chief justice to submit the resignation letter.

“With this, the government finally has the Supreme Court in its grasp. This is unfortunate for the nation,” he said, reported the Dhaka Tribune.