Dhaka: A Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced former Prime Minister and leader of opposition Khaleda Zia to seven years in jail in a corruption case.
The court found Khaleda, the chief of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and three others guilty of using their political clout to raise funds of around 31.5 million taka ($375,000) from unknown sources for the Zia Charitable Trust.
The verdict was announced at the temporary court premises set up at the old central prison in the capital, bdnews24.com reported. The case was filed against Khaleda by the Anti-Corruption Commission eight years ago.
Defence lawyers boycotted the trial. Following the verdict, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir announced nationwide protests on Tuesday.
The final trial proceedings in the case went ahead in the absence of Khaleda, who is serving time in jail in another corruption case, after the prison authorities repeatedly failed to bring her to court.
Khaleda’s former political affairs secretary Harris Chowdhury, his former aide Ziaul Islam Munna and former Dhaka Mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka’s personal secretary Monirul Islam Khan were the three others convicted in the case.
Public Prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajol said that Khaleda and the other convicts were also fined 1 million taka (about $11,904) each, in default of which they will have to remain six months more in jail.
He said this was the highest punishment under the existing law.
Judge Akhtaruzzaman of the Special Judge’s Court delivered the verdict hours after the country’s Supreme Court had rejected Khaleda’s leave-to-appeal petition that challenged a High Court judgment that allowed the special court to proceed with the hearing in her absence.
Khaleda, 73, has been skipping hearings in the case citing ill health. The Supreme Court verdict, however, had cleared the way for trial in the case.
Khaleda has been in custody since February 8, when she was sentenced to five years in prison in another Zia Orphanage Trust graft case. In this case, Khaleda and five others, including her elder son Tarique Rahman, were accused of embezzling over 20 million taka ($253,164) from the orphanage trust during her 2001-2006 Prime Ministerial term.
The former Prime Minister was being detained in the old Dhaka central jail before the authorities had moved her to a state-run hospital on October 6.
Khaleda currently has more than a dozen cases against her for corruption, violence and sedition. Her supporters claimed that the verdict was “politically motivated” and aimed at keeping her away from national elections in December.
Khaleda has a long-running and bitter political rivalry with current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The two have dominated Bangladesh politics for over two decades.