Dhaka, Mar 4: A Bangladeshi court today upheld the arrest warrant issued against opposition leader Khaleda Zia and called her a "fugitive" after the former Premier again failed to appear for the trial in two graft cases involving over USD 650,000 which could see her jailed for life.
"Rejected," Third Metropolitan Special Court judge Abu Ahmed Jomadar pronounced as Zia's lawyers in her absence submitted a plea seeking withdrawal of arrest warrant issued against her last week in the Zia Orphanage Trust and Zia Charitable Trust graft cases after her repeated failure to appear in the court. The judge said the February 25 order on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief's arrest will remain effective.
The judge termed the 69-year-old former premier a "fugitive" because of her repeated non-appearance in the court and added that according to the law none could file a petition "on behalf of any fugitive accused". The court fixed April 5 for the next hearing.
The court's decision came as tension brewed in the capital after suspected opposition activists exploded two homemade bombs at the makeshift court premises at downtown Bakshibazar area despite huge security vigil in the area. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief is accused of embezzling nearly USD 650,000 in the two corruption cases during her last term as prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and could be jailed for life if proved guilty. Zia's counsel had yesterday demanded "enough security and assurance for her safe return to her Gulshan political office" as preconditions for her court appearance.
"We respect the law. She (Zia) is willing to go to court if she has to...but she will go to court if she is given adequate security and an assurance that she will be allowed to return to her office," Zia's chief counsel Khandker Mahbub Hossain had told newsmen last night. Zia continues to stay in her office at the upmarket Gulshan since the beginning of the current spate of violent unrest on January 5, coinciding with the first anniversary of the general elections, boycotted by her party. Police, however, had said that they were yet to formally receive the copy of the court's February 25 arrest warrant or directives from higher authorities to arrest.
The court on February 25 had also ordered appearance of Zia's 'fugitive' elder son and BNP's senior vice president Tarique Rahman, now living in London, as another accused in the two graft cases. The defence lawyers today also sought to extend the deadline for Rahmans appearance but the judge rejected the plea. Meanwhile, a number of foreign envoys in Dhaka, including US and EU ambassadors, last night met Zia at her office in their efforts to de-escalate the unrest amid fears that her arrest could intensify the political violence which has claimed over 114 lives in the last two months.