Bangladesh brings new graft charge against ex-PM

Bangladesh brought fresh graft charges on Thursday against detained former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, accusing her of embezzling money from an orphanage.

Bangladesh brings new graft charge against ex-PM
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a case accusing Khaleda, her detained elder son and political heir Tareque Rahman and five others of embezzling 21 million taka ($306,480), officials said, as her party continued to demand her immediate and unconditional release.

"We have filed the case at Dhaka's Ramna police station with sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges," a senior ACC official told reporters.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since an army-backed interim government took charge in January last year following months of political violence.

Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has rejected a government offer to talk with it ahead of a national election the administration has pledged to hold in December.

The BNP also opposed a government plan to hold local council polls while its rival Awami League, headed by paroled former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, supported the local election.

"We call upon the people to boycott the local polls, which are illegal ahead of national polls," Khondaker Delwar Hossain, secretary-general of BNP told a party meeting on Thursday.

He renewed demands for the immediate and unconditional release of Khaleda and her two ailing sons from jail. Otherwise, the BNP would not also take part in the parliamentary election in December, he said.

Candidates for the local elections are not directly drawn from political parties, but are normally local elites and popular figures. Bangladesh election laws ban political parties from directly contesting local polls.

"These (graft charges) are a sort of bargaining. As Khaleda and her party are still opposing the interim government, the new charges are being laid," a political observer said.

Awami League held talks with the interim government on Thursday to discuss plans for the local and national polls. The government gave Hasina eight weeks parole last month to travel to the United States for medical treatment.

During the talks, the Awami leaders demanded withdrawal of the state of emergency for allowing unhindered campaigning for the local and national polls.

Hasina, Khaleda and her two detained sons are being prosecuted on several graft charges. Khaleda and Hasina, who alternated as prime ministers for 15 years from 1991, deny the charges, which they say are politically motivated.

The so-called "Battling Begums" would be expected to play key roles in a national election. But if convicted they would be barred from the race, legal experts say.

The two women were arrested along with 170 key political figures last year during an anti-corruption drive by the interim government. More than 50 of them, including former ministers, have been convicted for corruption.

Reuters
Last Mod: 04 Temmuz 2008, 12:28
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