Dhaka/Guwahati, Jan 30: ULFA breakaway faction leader Paresh Baruah and 13 others were Thursday awarded death sentence by a Bangladesh court for smuggling into the country 10 truckloads of arms almost 10 years ago, an operation in which Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) was also reportedly involved.
India awaits official communication in the case.
Besides barfuah, a special court in Chittagong handed down the death sentence to Jamaat chief and then industries minister Motiur Rahman Nizami and then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, for smuggling into Bangladesh 10 truckloads of firearms in 2004, the Daily Star reported.
Baruah, who is United Liberation Front of Asom’s (ULFA) self-styled commander-in-chief and opposed to peace talks with New Delhi, is on the run.
“The verdict has been delivered on receiving permission from High Court division,” the report quoted Judge S.M. Mojibur Rahman of the Chittagong Metropolitan Special Tribunal-1 as saying.
A huge cache of arms was recovered April 2, 2004, at the jetty of the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd. (CUFL) near the Karnaphuli river while being loaded on 10 trucks for delivery to the Indian separatist outfit ULFA.
These included 4,930 sophisticated firearms of different types, 840 rocket launchers, 300 rockets, 27,020 grenades, 2,000 grenade-launching tubes, 6,392 magazines and 11.41 million bullets.
It was the largest ever seizure of an arms consignment in the country.
India’s Assam state Thursday said it cannot offer a reaction to Baruah being awarded death sentence until it receives “formal communication” in this regard.
State Home Secretary G.D. Tripathy said he has seen media reports that a court in Bangladesh has awarded the death sentence.
“However, we are yet to receive any official communication in this regard. I can comment only after I receive formal communication in this regard,” Tripathy said.
During the course of investigation, two charge sheets in connection with the case were submitted – one in the arms case after two months, and the other in the smuggling case after four months.
According to the Daily Star, the trial in both the cases started in 2005 “with several loopholes as the probes overlooked some important factors such as who had brought the arms, from which country, what was the destination, and how was a jetty of a state-owned body used for unloading the weapons”.
After a caretaker government took over in Bangladesh Jan 11, 2007, there were new developments.
The court of Chittagong Metropolitan Judge Feb 14, 2008, ordered further investigation following a prosecution petition and the cases took a new turn.
Muniruzzaman Chowdhury, a senior official, submitted two supplementary charge sheets in June 2011, accusing 11 new suspects.
Baruah was among those charged in both the cases.
Another media report said that Pakistan’s ISI was among various local and foreign intelligence agencies that played a role in the 2004 arms smuggling case.
The Daily Star reported that a probe into the incident revealed the involvement of some top politicians of the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led four-party alliance government, bureaucrats, ISI and ULFA.
Former National Security Intelligence (NSI) director Shahab Uddin, who is now in jail, alleged that former NSI director Abdur Rahim had held several meetings with officials of Pakistan’s ARY Group and the ISI at home and abroad.
Rahim in a statement May 27, 2009, had mentioned the names of the ARY and ISI and spoke about holding meetings with the officials of the two organisations.
He also said that he had met then ISI director general Ehsanul Hoque in London but he did not in those meetings give any hint about planning the arms smuggling. Instead, he alleged that Shahab held a meeting with ISI officials to facilitate the arms smuggling.
Meanwhile, according to a Xinhua report, chief defence counsel Kamrul Islam said that Thursday’s ruling was politically motivated following flawed trials.
“We’ll appeal to the apex court against the verdict,” he said.