Bangladesh anti-graft body questions ex-ministers

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DHAKA, Sept 25 (Reuters) Bangladesh's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) interrogated five former ministers today over graft charges involving ex-Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and her son, officials said.

Investigators summoned the ministers to testify whether Khaleda had in 2003 approved the contract for a firm handling containers at the country's biggest port, Chittagong, and a container depot in Dhaka.

The Commission is investigating whether the Dhaka-based Global Agro Trade (Private) Company was awarded the contract only after Khaleda was persuaded by her younger son, Arafat Rahman, to overrule a state purchase committee's recommendation.

The eight ex-ministers were former cabinet colleagues of Khaleda, who completed her five-year tenure in October last year.

She and her son were arrested earlier this month on charges they accepted bribes from the firm in exchange for the container contract.

Police have also arrested a son of a former shipping minister and six officials of the Chittagong Port Authority, including a former chairman, in the same case..

Former ministers M Saifur Rahman, Shamsul Islam, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, MK Anwar and Matiur Rahman Nizami were at the anti-graft commission's offices for several hours on Tuesday to answer questions, officials said.

''We got what we wanted to know from them, so they have been allowed to go back home,'' a senior ACC official said.

Ismail Hossain, the detained son of former shipping minister Akbar Hossain, has told police in a confessional statement that he accepted 20 million taka (290,000 dollars) from a Dhaka-based firm and handed half to Arafat Rahman to convince his mother to approve the deal.

The ACC is investigating the case under the emergency powers act, which means a trial must be completed within 120 days from the commencement of prosecution -- likely in the next two weeks.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January when an army-backed interim administration took power after months of political violence, cancelled elections and banned all political activity.

More than 170 political leaders, including two former prime ministers, Khaleda and her arch rival Sheikh Hasina, have been detained on charges of corruption, extortion and misuse of power.

REUTERS JK VC1535

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