DHAKA Bangladesh’s ailing former prime minister Khaleda Zia suffered a major setback on Monday when a court here jailed her to seven years in a second corruption case for embezzling millions from a charitable trust in her late husband’s name, ahead of general elections.
Zia, 73, is already behind bars after being handed a five-year term in February in another case related to embezzlement of funds of an orphanage named after her husband late president Ziaur Rahman.
The latest sentence, which comes ahead of general elections in December, is related the Zia Charitable Trust.
According to the case, Zia and three others abused their power and collected USD 375,000 for the trust from unknown sources.
Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman announced the verdict from the temporary premises of the court at the old central prison at Dhaka’s Nazimuddin Road.
The final trial proceedings in the case went ahead in the absence of Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), after the prison authorities repeatedly failed to bring her to the court.
She had recently complained to the court that she was losing feeling in her hand and in a leg.
The Zia Charitable Trust graft case was filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2011.
Zia’s former political affairs secretary Harris Chowdhury, his former aide and former Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority acting director Ziaul Islam Munna and former Dhaka mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka’s personal secretary Monirul Islam Khan are the three others convicted in the case.
“All the convicts were also fined Taka 10 lakh (USD 11,784),” chief prosecution lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajol said.
“The judge simultaneously ordered confiscation of the piece of land in favour of the state,” Kajol said.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir described the verdict as a “politically motivated judgment” and said the party would stage a nationwide protest against it.
“BNP is rejecting this judgment,” Alamgir said.
Earlier in the day, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court cleared the way for a lower court to deliver its verdict in the case by rejecting Zia’s plea to halt the proceedings.
The apex court rejected a leave-to-appeal petition filed by Zia challenging the High Court judgement that allowed a lower court to continue trial in the graft case in her absence.
The court on September 20 decided to continue the trial inside the old Dhaka central jail in Zia’s absence.
The former premier on September 27 filed a revision petition with the High Court (HC) challenging the court’s September 20 order.
On October 14, the HC rejected the revision petition of Zia and cleared the way for the trial court to continue with its proceedings.
Zia had skipped appearances in the case citing illness.
On October 6, she was taken to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hospital, where she is currently receiving treatment.
The verdict is crucial as it came ahead of the parliamentary elections in December. Zia’s party had boycotted the 2014 elections.
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