DHAKA: A Bangladeshi court today ordered the arrest of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, canceling her existing bail in connection with two graft cases after she repeatedly failed to appear for the hearings.
The arrest warrant was issued after 69-year-old Zia’s lawyers sought to defer the scheduled hearing saying their client could not appear due to “security reasons”.
Abu Ahmed Jomadar of Special Judge Court-3, which is hearing the Zia Orphanage Trust and Zia Charitable Trust graft cases against the former premier and eight others including her ‘fugitive’ elder son Tarique Rahman, issued the warrant.
Court officials said the order came as the ex-premier in the past skipped more than 50 such hearings of the simultaneous trial of the two cases and her counsels every time gave different excuses for her absence.
The development came amid a political unrest as Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) continued to enforce a non-stop nationwide blockade since January 6, sparking violence that so far claimed nearly 110 lives.
The judge also dismissed the defense plea for adjournment and continued with the planned hearing during which an official of the independent Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) testified before the court.
Zia’s elder son and BNP’s senior vice president, who now lives in London, is a co-accused in the case. The court earlier declared him “fugitive” as he preferred not to face the trial in person.
The court today also ordered arrests of two other accused former BNP lawmaker Kazi Saleemul Haq alias Econo Kamal and businessman Sharfuddin Ahmed as they too skipped the hearing.
The court also asked advocate Sanaullah Mia, who is representing Rahman to produce him before it on March 4, the next date for the hearing of the cases.
Zia appeared last at the court at its makeshift premises at downtown Bakshibazar on December 24, 2014.
The subsequent hearing was scheduled for January 29, several days after Zia’s expatriate younger son Arafat Rahman Koko died in Malaysia, but the court adjourned it considering her grief.
Zia and three of her aides are accused of syphoning off 31.5 million taka (about USD 400,000) from the Zia Charitable Trust alone while she is also accused of leading a group of five people, including her eldest son, in embezzling 21.5 million taka (USD 277,000) from other fund. Zia on November 30, 2014 lost her last chance 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 the trial in the lower court.
The ACC alleged that the two charities existed only in papers and a huge amount of money was misappropriated in the name of the two organizations while Zia 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.
Lawyers said Zia and other accused could be jailed for life if found guilty.
The ex-premier, whose party boycotted the last January 5, 2014 elections, called the charges “politically motivated” and alleged those were aimed at destroying the her party BNP. –PTI