After six years of legal battle, the High Court has finally cleared the way for the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the operations of National Warehouse and even sue the company for any illegal imports or sales of liquor.
The HC gave the verdict yesterday, rejecting a writ petition filed by the diplomatic bonded warehouse challenging the legality of a 2012 notice by the ACC that sought its import and sales records so the Commission can look into allegations of money laundering.
In the writ, National Warehouse, one of the six private diplomatic bonded warehouses who import alcohol for diplomats, argued that the graft watchdog had no authorities to probe its operation or demand such documents.
The court disagreed.
“If you think you are fair, then what's wrong in providing those records?” the HC asked the petitioner.
The court also lifted its earlier order that had stayed the effectiveness of the ACC notice issued on January 23, 2012.
The ACC had sent similar notices to at least three other private diplomatic bonded warehouses -- TOS Bond, Sabir Traders Limited (STL), and Decca Warehouse.
They too had challenged the legality of the ACC notice, but those were all dismissed by the HC.
However, these three warehouses challenged the HC verdict with the Supreme Court, which is yet to deliver its verdict on the matter, court sources said.
Yesterday's judgment comes just two weeks after an investigation by The Daily Star found how some of the diplomatic bonded warehouses sell the duty-free liquor in the open market at exorbitant prices.
The Daily Star published the two-part series on September 24 and 25, headlined “Given by ghosts” and “Out of watch with legal shield”. See the full stories here: https://bit.ly/2CbiY1d and https://bit.ly/2y9xvrF.
Our findings, based on thousands of pages of official documents, court filings and audit reports, show some of these enterprises import way beyond their government-set limits through under-invoicing and other trickeries in the record books.
The months-long investigation also revealed how they try to remain out of the regulators' watch with legal shield.
Over the last two decades, diplomatic bonded warehouses filed writ after writ with the High Court challenging the legality of the government move to ensure transparency and accountability in the sector.
As a result, the whole sector is now embroiled in a prolonged legal battle over who can monitor the diplomatic bonded warehouses and to what extent.
At least 48 such petitions now remain pending before the HC, making it impossible for the authorities to do what they are supposed to do -- check irregularities within the bonded warehouses.
Yesterday's verdict, delivered by Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice KM Hafizul Alam, comes against this backdrop.
The court maintained that an enquiry needs to be conducted to find out whether National Warehouse is purchasing and selling liquors in line with the Customs Bond rules, Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik told The Daily Star.