Bangladesh former PM Khaleda Zia. (Source: AP photo)
In a major blow to Bangladesh’s main opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, the Supreme Court on Sunday rejected an appeal challenging her indictment in a graft case, clearing the way for her trial which could see her jailed for life if found guilty.
The five-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice M Muzammel Hossain dismissed her appeal against the trial under graft charges involving a charity named after her slain husband former president Ziaur Rahman.
“The Appellate Division (of the Supreme Court) has rejected her leave to appeal in the Zia Charitable Trust case… She now will have to face the trial at the Metropolitan Special Judge,” a Supreme Court official said. 69-year-old Zia made the last ditch effort at the Supeme Court after a High Court bench earlier validated her indictment by the trial court.
Sunday’s verdict came a week after the apex court rejected a nearly identical appeal challenging her trial in another graft case involving a charity called Zia Orphanage Trust. On March 19, Judge Basudev Roy of Dhaka’s Third Metropolitan Special Judges Court had indicted Zia in both the cases filed by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
It alleged the two charities existed only in papers while huge amount of money was misappropriated in the name of the two philanthropic organisations while she was the premier during BNP’s 2001-2006 tenure.
The ACC in 2009 filed the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case on charge of embezzling a huge amount of money by forming a “fake” trust and filed the other case in 2011 on charge of abusing power during setting up the charitable trust.
Her now expatriate elder son and BNP’s senior vice president Tarique Rahman and seven others were accused in the two cases on charges of raising funds illegally for the two charities and embezzling the amounts.
Zia and three of her aides are accused of syphoning off about USD 400,000 from the Zia Charitable Trust. She is also accused of leading a group of five people, including her eldest son, in embezzling USD 277,000 – funds which were meant to go to an orphanage set up in memory of her late husband, who was assassinated in a coup in 1981.
Lawyers said Zia and other accused could be jailed for life if found guilty. Zia, whose Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted the 2014 general elections, termed the charges “politically motivated” and alleged those were aimed at destroying the BNP.
During the past military-backed government, the ACC in July 2009 filed first the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case against her, her elder son and four others. Two years later in August in 2011, the statutory graft body filed the other case over the Zia Charitable Trust while incumbent Awami League government was in power.
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