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Niko graft trial yet to kick-off as Bangladesh wins compensation for blowouts

  • Published at 11:06 am May 10th, 2020
Khaleda Zia
File photo of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Court yet to indict suspects, which include former PM and BNP chief, Khaleda Zia

Bangladesh has won compensation from Canadian oil and gas explorer Niko for the 2005 gas field blowouts in an international tribunal. However, at home, it is yet to begin the trial against a former prime minister for abusing her office to award gas fields to the company that caused the state to suffer losses.

In 2007, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) started a case against BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and 10 others for handing out three gas fields to the company by showing them abandoned, which caused the state a loss of Tk 13,777 crore.

Over 12 years later, the trial has not started as the court is yet to frame charges against the suspects.

The prosecution says the trial proceedings have been halted as Khaleda has skipped several hearings while the defence claimed she could not appear due to illness.

“The High Court stayed proceedings in the case when the order was quashed in 2017, it paved the way for the trial to resume,” said ACC counsel Mosharraf Hossain Kajol.

Since then, the court set several dates for the indictment hearing, but Khaleda skipped those on health grounds, he added.

However, a member of Khaleda’s defence team said the prison authorities did not produce her.

“She was in jail since February 2008, but the authorities did not produce her in court as she was admitted to the BSMMU (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University) due to illness,” said Masud Ahmed Talukdar.

Winning compensation from Niko 

On February 28 this year, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Dispute (Icsid) ordered Niko to pay damages to Petrobangla after it found the Canadian company liable for the Tengratila gas field blowouts in Chhatak, Sunamganj.

However, this was reported on May 3, when State Minister for Energy, Nasrul Hamid, announced it at an online media call.

The verdict came after Bangladesh submitted a compensation claim based on the analysis of international experts.

Bangladesh hopes the compensation will be over $1 billion due to the damage caused to properties and gas reserves in and around the Tengratila gas field, Hamid said. 

The tribunal also said environmental and health costs must be added to the amount.

In 2003, Niko Resources (Bangladesh) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Canadian corporation, signed a joint venture agreement with Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration & Production Company Limited (BAPEX) to develop gas fields in Feni and Chhatak. Petrobangla subsequently agreed to buy the gas extracted from the Feni field under a gas purchase and sales agreement.

Subsequently, a drilling well at Chhatak's Tengratila gas field exploded in January 2005 and was followed by another blowout at the same place later in June which resulted in extensive damage to the gas well, human lives and the environment.

Niko graft case pending in court

During the caretaker administration’s emergency regime, the graft watchdog started the case against Khaleda and ten others on December 9, 2007.

The others accused in the case are: former minister Moudud Ahmed, former state minister AKM Mosharraf Hossain, former Principal Secretary Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, former Secretary Khandaker Shahidul Islam, former Senior Assistant Secretary C M Yusuf Hossain, former managing director of BAPEX, Mir Moynul Hoque, former secretary of BAPEX, Shafiur Rahman, businessman Gias Uddin Al Mamun, former president of Dhaka Club, Salim Bhuiyan, and Kashem Sharif, vice president for South Asia in Niko.

Five months later, on May 5, 2008, the charge sheet was submitted in court.

Two months later, the High Court stayed the proceedings of the case following a petition filed by Khaleda.

Following an ACC move, on June 18, 2016, the High Court cleared the way for the trial proceedings to resume against Khaleda and others in the case.