Ex-Bangladesh PM Khaleda Zia's graft trial begins

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Dhaka, Sep 22: Bangladesh's main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia went on trial on Monday accused of embezzling about USD 680,000 in two corruption cases that could see her jailed for life if found guilty.

69-year-old Zia's trial in the two corruption cases -- Zia Orphanage and Zia Charitable Trust -- began with the recording of the deposition of a witness in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson's absence.

Partial deposition of plaintiff Harun-ur-Rashid, deputy director of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), was recorded at Judge Bashudeb Roy of Special Judge's Court.

The trial of Zia, who has twice served as the country's Prime Minister, is being held at a makeshift court in Bakshibazar here.

Earlier in the day, the court of Dhaka's Third Metropolitan Sessions Judge Roy rejected the defence counsels' plea to defer recording witnesses in the case filed by the ACC.

Zia had requested for deferring the trial on grounds that she could not be able to appear in court today amid the BNP-led alliance's countrywide strike.

Her lawyer Taherul Islam Towhid said that they had also filed a petition that would exempt Khaleda from personal appearance during the deposition. The court rejected the plea for deferment and wanted to start recording of witnesses when pro-BNP lawyers raised a furore in the courtroom.

ACC lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajol appealed to the court to declare the BNP chief as absconding and start the hearing. The court later approved Khaleda's plea which exempted her to appear in person and ordered starting recording of witnesses.

A five-member Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Mohammad Muzammel Hossain last week had dismissed the petitions of Zia, who challenged the legality of the appointment of a lower court judge who indicted her in two graft cases, paving the way for her trial on corruption charges.

On March 19, the court of Dhaka's Third Metropolitan Sessions Judge Roy framed charges against eight including Zia and her elder son Tarique Rahman in the two cases accusing them of embezzling Taka 53 million (USD 6,77,000).

Zia and three of her aides are accused of siphoning off 31.5 million taka (about USD 400,000) from a charitable trust named after her late husband Ziaur Rahman, a former president who was assassinated in 1981.

She is also accused of leading a group of five people, including Rahman, in embezzling 21.5 million taka (USD 277,000) -- meant to go to an orphanage set up in memory of her late husband.

PTI

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