A special judge's court has sentenced former prime minister and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia to five years in prison for corruption.
Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of special court-5 handed down the verdict in the sensational case in his crowded courtroom.
Zia, 72, and five others, including her expatriate elder son Tarique Rahman, stand accused of embezzling 21 million takas (USD 252,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust. In the same case, her son Tarique Rahman and four others have been sentenced to 10 years in jail.
The ex-premier on November 30, 2014 lost her last ditch effort to evade the graft trial as the Supreme Court turned down her second 'leave to appeal' petition challenging her indictment and asked her to face trial in the lower court.
The High Court earlier validated the trial in the lower court, which on March 19, 2014 had indicted Zia on two graft charges brought by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
After Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad, Khaleda is the second head of the government convicted in a graft case.
The Anti-Corruption Commission filed the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case on July 3, 2008 with Ramna Police Station accusing Khaleda, her eldest son Tarique Rahman, now living in the UK, and four others of misappropriating over 2.10 crore that came as grants from a foreign bank for orphans.
Zia, meanwhile, in a press conference ahead of the verdict, blamed the government for unleashing a "reign of terror" ahead of the verdict and claimed she was implicated in a "false case" but said she was ready to face any fate.
"I believe the court will acquit me of all charges...It's a false case and a tool to harass me and my family...but if the judgement is delivered to appease the ruling quarters that will create a history of stigma," she said. Her party had boycotted the 2014 polls over its demands for an election-time non-party government, and became the opposition outside parliament. But it is expected to contest the upcoming polls.
Political analysts said the BNP might see a political split as several senior leaders could disassociate themselves from Zia as her son Rahman, the senior vice president of the party, is seen as wielding authority from London while ignoring party veterans. Rahman is believed to have sought asylum in Britain to evade justice as he is also being tried on several charges, including a 2004 grenade attack on a rally of the then opposition Awami League that killed 23 people and in which Hasina narrowly escaped.
Zia, in a meeting of the party's highest policy making national executive committee last week, warned of severe consequences against any attempt of "betrayal" saying she would remain with the party whatever the court verdict.
The main opposition party, which claims the charges are part of a plot to keep its leader out of the general election, has threatened to take to the streets if she is convicted.