Dr. Kamal Hossain is often credited with drafting Bangladesh’s Constitution and he himself frequently cites Article 27 of the Constitution which deals with “equality before law” and enshrines the principle that “all citizens are equal before law.” Yet, the irony is that when it comes to the constitutional mandate of equality before the law, Kamal Hossain himself appears to be above the law.
One of Hossain’s most recent tax evasion transgressions appear to have been through misleading the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, where he practices as a Senior Advocate. The case concerns allegation of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) that Dr. Kamal Hossain and his daughter, Sara Hossain, through their law firm, surreptitiously evaded more than Taka 6.85 crore in tax payment in the 2018-2019 tax year. In this under-reported writ petition case, the Hossains successfully upheld their own fundamental rights and obtained a ruling from a High Court Division Bench, comprising Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice SM Maniruzzaman, asking the Government of Bangladesh to explain why an Income Tax Appellate Tribunal decision against their firm should not be quashed. The Court also issued an order of status quo on the pending case against the Hossains for allegedly hiding their law firm’s income.
In the writ petition No. 6270 of 2022, the law firm of Dr. Kamal Hossain (owned 50% by Kamal Hossain and 20% by Sara Hossain), admit to receiving payment from overseas for legal services rendered in Bangladesh. The crux of the case is that, for the assessment year 2018/2019, NBR found irregularities in two Standard Chartered Bank accounts, being account No. 01-1825445-03 and account No. 01-1825445-04 owned and operated by Kamal Hossain and Sara Hossain. The allegations include their failure to disclose all their incomes.
While the Income Tax Tribunal’s proceedings against Kamal Hossain and Sara Hossain have been stayed, it is pertinent to ask whether there are other irregularities and anomalies concerning these internationally known privileged individuals which have been hidden from the courts and the tax authorities.
Under section 17 of the Income Tax Ordinance, 1984, the total income of any income year of any person includes all income, from whatever source derived, which is received or deemed to be received in Bangladesh by or on behalf of such person in such year or accrues or arises to him outside Bangladesh during that year.
Kamal Hossain has been a leading lawyer in Bangladesh and recognized internationally for his work in the field of international arbitration. He served as a member of numerous international arbitration cases, including the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, and the international tribunals dealing with maritime disputes between Malaysia and Singapore and Guyana and Suriname. Similarly, Sara Hossain does a lot of work for which payment in received from overseas. However, being the privileged persons that the Hossains are, it appears that they do no always disclose all their incomes to the National Board of Revenue in Bangladesh, where they both reside and from where they work.
For instance, for the assessment year 2018/2019, the proceedings of which has now been stayed by the High Court, Dr. Kamal Hossain received USD 216,718.04 for which no evidence has been provided to the NBR or the High Court. In a publicly available international arbitration award from 2019 it is revealed that Kamal Hossain received fees of USD 216,718.04 from the parties to the arbitration (See para 542, page 182, Award international dated 11 October 2019, available at http://icsidfiles.worldbank.org/icsid/ICSIDBLOBS/OnlineAwards/C4926/DS12957_En.pdf).
The allegations brought against Kamal Hossain and Sara Hossain by the NBR raise serious concerns about tax evasion by persons who often claim to be vanguards of equality before the law. Yet, instead of facing the allegations in an open court, these “above the law” elite resort to abusing the process of the court in order to put the cases against them in deep freeze away from the gaze of the ordinary citizens for whom the laws remains applicable.
Written by: Dr. Md Monjurul Islam; Associate Professor, Dept of Rural Development,
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU), Gazipur.