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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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WorldTel Still Hooked for Bangladesh Torture

MANHATTAN (CN) - Claims that a WorldTel affiliate was complicit in Bangladesh paramilitary torture activities support a verdict under only one of two counts, the 2nd Circuit ruled Monday, partially vacating a $1.75 million award.

A lawyer for the alleged torture victim said in a phone interview that he does not expect the ruling will diminish the award his client will collect after nearly half a decade of litigation.

Businessmen Nayeem Mehtab Chowdhury and Amjad Hossain Khan once served together on the board of directors of World Bangladesh Ltd., which had a 25-year license to provide the country with telecommunications services for more than $100 million.

World Communications Investments Inc., where Chowdury served as an officer, and Worldtel Bangladesh Holding Ltd., one of Khan's businesses controlled that company.

In 2005, Chowdhury had World Bangladesh Ltd. issue new shares and take out additional debt, reducing the interest of Khan's company from 50 percent to less than 1 percent.

Alleging that Chowdhury forged signatures to make this change, Khan urged 17 agencies and divisions of the Bangladeshi government to launch an official investigation.

Bangladesh's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence summoned Chowdhury and detained him for 53 days, without charges and without access to anyone outside his room of confinement.

Although that government branch released Chowdhury without violence, Khan also had a pending complaint with Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary unit.

Chowdhury testified at trial that this unit tortured him for about a week in November 2007 at Khan's direction to force him to turn over his business interests.

During that time, Chowdhury said that he was blindfolded and handcuffed before "electric shocks were applied to his thigh and arms through the use of an unidentified prodding device," the 2nd Circuit explained.

Chowdhury subsequently sued Khan and WorldTel Bangladesh Holding Ltd. for violations of the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.

After a one-day trial in 2009, a Brooklyn federal jury returned a general verdict finding the defendants guilty of torture under both laws, holding the WorldTel affiliate liable for $1.5 million and Khan personally responsible for $250,000.

Years later, the U.S. Supreme Court barred application of the Alien Tort Statute against corporations for alleged atrocities committed abroad in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

Kiobel's outcome spurred repeated delays of Khan's appeal, which was argued twice before resolution.

It finally led the 2nd Circuit to reverse the Alien Tort Statute against Kahn and his company on Monday.

The three-judge panel rejected Khan's argument that Chowdhury's treatment in custody was "police brutality" rather than "torture."

"This conclusion is bolstered by the numerous courts of appeals that have referred to electric shocks as an instrument of torture," Judge Jose Cabranes wrote for the court.

Judge Denny Chin joined him in a 30-page opinion.

Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote that she was "pleased to concur in the concise and thorough opinion" of her colleagues in another opinion emphasizing the "narrowness" of court's interpretation of the Kiobel precedent.

Evan Sarzin, a New York-based attorney representing Chowdhury, said in a phone interview that the ruling was limited enough not to disturb the $1.75 million that his client stands to collect.

He said that he had not told Chowdhury yet about the ruling, but he expects that his client will collect the money should his adversary not file a writ of certiorari in Supreme Court.

Khan's lawyer declined to comment.

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