The Anti-corruption Commission, in a rather controversial move, has decided to reopen proceedings against 297 graft suspects, the majority of whom were pardoned by the now defunct Truth and Accountability Commission (Tac) in exchange for voluntary disclosure and surrender of ill-gotten wealth.

ACC made the decision last week, after the High Court in November 2008 had declared that the Voluntary Disclosure of Information Ordinance 2008 is illegal and unconstitutional.

The immediate past caretaker government promulgated the ordinance and formed Tac under it, to ease the state’s including the judiciary’s burden of dealing with graft cases that were piling up fast.

ACC could not make the move earlier as the Supreme Court stayed the HC verdict several times, in response to repeated petitions for it by both the erstwhile caretaker, and the incumbent elected governments.

SC finally dismissed the government’s appeal in November last year, as the latter had failed to file a regular leave to appeal despite four extensions of the stay.

But the ACC move seems sure to give rise to debates and controversies, as one of the leading legal experts of the country Barrister Rafiqul Haq told The Daily Star last night, “The action would be against fundamental rights as well as against the rule of law, and the constitution. Such an action on the part of the Anti-corruption Commission would be mala fide, as a person cannot be punished twice for the same offence.”

“The graft suspects made disclosures following a government decision. If the present government now overturns that decision, that would be against good conscience and justice,” he added.

Commenting on the move, Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman however said, “It would not be illogical if the Anti-corruption Commission wants to reopen the cases. Formation of the Truth and Accountability Commission was in no way a logical decision by the government. There can’t be separate laws for the same offence.”

ACC, however, should treat the cases like it does its other cases, ensuring that the disclosures made to Tac would not have any bearing on the proceedings, he added.

Meanwhile, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman told The Daily Star yesterday, “At first we will deal with the 27 cases Truth and Accountability Commission sent back to the Anti-corruption Commission, declining to consider those for clemency. And gradually we will reopen the rest, which were closed through granting of clemency,”

ACC sources said the cases will be reopened at the stages those went to Tac. Currently the commission is looking into those stages, they added.

ACC in February this year requested Attorney General Mahbubey Alam for legal advice on the matter.

But the attorney general refrained from giving any opinion, saying the government had yet to receive the copy of the HC verdict that had declared Tac illegal.

“Finally, the court will decide the matter,” Mahbubey Alam told The Daily Star yesterday.

Tac awarded clemency to 452 graft suspects during its five months’ tenure from August 2008.

The cases of 270 of them went to Tac from ACC. The statement of only one of them however corroborated the findings of ACC.

The 270 admitted to accumulating ill-gotten wealth worth total Tk 28 crore to Tac, but according to ACC, the total worth of their illegal assets would be no less than Tk 400 crore.

Source: The Daily Star – 31.05.2010

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