Extortion case initiated on refusal to accept govt deal: Hasina

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Dhaka, Jan 13 (UNI) As Bangladesh former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was indicted in an extortion case today, she claimed that the cases were initiated as she did not accept the military dictatorship to take over as President.

''I am totally innocent,'' she told the court as Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions judge M Azizul Haque framed charges against Sheikh Hasina, her younger sister, Sheikh Rehana, residing in London and former Health Minister Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim in the three crore taka extortion case.

The court fixed January 17 for commencing the trial of Sheikh Hasina and two others through depositions by prosecution witnesses, according to the UNB news agency.

The former Prime Minister was arrested on July 16 in connection with the case filed by Managing Director of East Coast Trading Pvt Ltd, Azam J Chowdhury.

The military backed caretaker government installed on January 12, under the state of emergency, launched war on corruption rounding up ''corrupt'' politicians to clean up domestic politics.

If found guilty, the accused would be sentenced to maximum 14 years in prison.

The judge stated, ''There were sufficient grounds for framing charges against the accused.'' Counsel for Sheikh Hasina told reporters that they would move the High Court to challenge the legality of the trial judge's order.

Thousands of people, including Awami League workers and supporters, thronged the two sides of the road leading to the makeshift court to listen to the court's decision.

The authorities put up six-tier security barricade around the highly secured parliament building complex where the court has been set up.

Terming the case as ''malafide, concocted and conspiratorial'' to tarnish her image and debar her from contesting next parliamentary elections, Sheikh Hasina said, ''I cannot get justice from this court as I know you (judge) will be in trouble if you do the justice.

I leave the matter to almighty Allah and my people.'' In her 20-minute statement, the Awami League president told the judge ''you have nothing to do as message descends on you from a special place.'' She alleged being kept in ''solitary confinement'' in jail and not being allowed to consult her lawyers and relatives.

''It's a camera trial. The court was not set up in accordance with the Constitution,'' she said.

Explaining ''conspiracy'' as to why she was implicated in cases on her return from Washington in March last year, Sheikh Hasina alleged being given a proposal by military dictatorship to accept one of them as President. ''But I did not accept the deal. And this is my greatest offence to them,'' she said.

After the refusal of the deal, she was prevented from returning to the country from abroad. ''But as a believer of democracy for which I fought for long, I mobilised world opinion that forced the government to allow me to enter the country,'' she said.

Recounting the past military dictatorship, Hasina said it had hampered the advancement of democracy in the country.

Dismissing the extortion allegation, she refused knowing any Chowdhury. ''It is not possible to bring bribe money in a brief case to Ganobhaban (PM's House).'' Referring to contents of the allegation that she would delay the power project if kickback was not given, Sheikh Hasina said power plant was completed quickly to meet the growing demand for power.

''If the bribe was received, the project would not have been completed by the time schedule.'' She alleged that her cousin Sheikh Selim was tortured to extract the confessional statement implicating her and her sister Rehana in the case.

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