Bangladesh court orders ex-PM Khaleda free on bail

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DHAKA, Sep 30 (Reuters) The Bangladesh High Court today ordered former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia to be freed on bail and halted her further prosecution on corruption charges.

Court officials said there was no possibility Khaleda being released immediately as an official order will take a few days to reach jail authorities.

Earlier, the prosecutor's office said it would appeal against the ruling and try to block her release from detention.

''It is the legal right of the government to appeal against any court decision that goes against it (the government),'' a lawyer at the prosecutor's office said.

Security forces arrested Khaleda and her son Arafat Rahman early this month for awarding a cargo-handling contract to a firm in 2003 that her son favoured, overruling a state committee's recommendation.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) lodged the charges against Khaleda, her son and 11 other people a day before she was detained on September 3.

Since then, she has been held at a house in the parliament compound.

''The court has granted bail to the former prime minister and halted the proceeding of the case under emergency power rules,'' Khaleda's lawyer Rafiqul Huq told reporters.

''The court has accepted our point that an offence committed before imposition of state of emergency cannot be tried under emergency power rules,'' he added.

The court urged the interim government and the ACC to explain within six weeks why bringing the case under emergency power rules should not be declared unlawful.

Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party hailed the court order.

''It (the order to release Khaleda on bail) is the first step towards justice,'' Khaleda's adviser Hannan Shah told reporters.

''Please implement the court order and release her immediately.'' 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 political activity.

More than 170 political leaders, including the two former prime ministers, have been detained on charges of corruption, extortion and misuse of power.

Khaleda's other son Tareque Rahman has been detained since March on extortion charges.

The High Court did not grant bail to Khaleda's second son, Arafat Rahman, a co-accused in the same case. The interim government accuses him of persuading his mother to give a contract to Dhaka-based Global Agro Trade (Private) Company at the port of Chittagong and a container depot in Dhaka.

The son of a former shipping minister, detained last week, said in a statement that he had accepted 290,000 dollars from the firm and handed half to Arafat Rahman.

Another former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda's bitter rival, who was arrested in May on extortion charges, was not released after a similar bail order from the High Court.

Reuters SG GC2018

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