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9 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 9 February, 2018 02:27:49 AM
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Court sends Khaleda to jail

BNP chief jailed for 5 years, Tarique, 4 others for 10yrs each in orphanage trust graft case
MUHAMMAD YEASIN
Court sends Khaleda to jail
BNP chief Khaleda Zia is seen through her vehicle’s window on the way to the makeshift court at Bakshibazar in the capital yesterday. Independent Photo

In a major development, a Dhaka special judge’s court yesterday (Thursday) sentenced BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia to five years' imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case filed in 2008. Her eldest son and BNP senior vice-chairman, Tarique Rahman, and four others were given 10 years' jail term in the case. The court also fined Tarique and the four Tk. 2,10,71,000. Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman delivered the verdict at 2.29pm in a jam-packed and highly-guarded makeshift courtroom set up at Bakshibazar in Dhaka. Khaleda Zia and two other accused— former BNP lawmaker Qazi Saleemul Huq and businessman Sharfuddin Ahmed—were present. Three other accused—Tarique Rahman, Khaleda’s ex-principal secretary Kamal Uddin Siddique and Ziaur Rahman’s nephew Mominur Rahman—were tried in their absence.

It is the second time that a lower court has convicted a former head of government in connection with a corruption case. Earlier, a lower court had given its judgment in a case in which HM Ershad was the accused. The authorities have put in place tight security measures across the country. Foolproof security arrangements have also been made in and around the court area to avoid any untoward incident in the aftermath of the verdict.

The three times premier, Khaleda Zia, wearing an off-while sari, left for court from her Gulshan residence, but had to wait on the way for about three hours as her followers gathered in large numbers from Mogbazar to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. She reached the courtroom at 1.51pm.

The judge entered the courtroom at 2.12 pm and started delivering the verdict, saying it is a big case and the verdict is of 632 pages. “I will not read out the full judgement. I will read some relevant portions of the verdict,” the judge said. After elaborating the case history, the court delivered the verdict: “The prosecution has been able to prove the allegations brought against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. As the prosecution has proven the allegations against Tarique Rahman and four others, the court awarded each of them 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and fined them Tk. 2,10,71,000 under Sections 409 and 109 of the Penal Code.” It also said: “Although the allegations brought against BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia have been proven beyond reasonable doubt, the court sentences Khaleda Zia to five years’ rigorous imprisonment, considering her age and social status.”

The court said the trial proceedings in the case were delayed as the defence lawyers moved the higher court to halt the proceedings.

Even after chargesheets were submitted against the accused persons, trial proceedings stopped several times following the no-confidence petitions filed by the accused against the judges concerned. The BNP chief filed a no-confidence petition against this court, but the trial proceedings started on September 22, 2017 after the High Court as well as the Appellate Division rejected the petition.

The BNP chairperson prayed for time 39 times during the last one year of the trial. The court heard the closing arguments for 16 working days. Overall, it heard the case for 236 working days and recorded statements of 32 witnesses.

Soon after the verdict was delivered, the judge left the courtroom, with pro-BNP lawyers shouting: “No, no, it is a false and fabricated case”.

Khaleda Zia, who was hearing the verdict sitting on a chair at the courtroom, was cordoned off by law enforcers soon after the verdict and restrictions were imposed on the movement of the pro-BNP lawyers. However, some pro-BNP lawyers, including Moudud Ahmed, Jamir Uddin Sircar, Abdur Rezzaque Khan, AJ Mohammad Ali, Mahbub Uddin Khokan and Sanaullah Mia, met the BNP chairperson inside the courtroom and took advice from her for the next course of action.

In an immediate reaction, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told The Independent at the courtroom that it is a totally false, fabricated and politically motivated case.

“This is a political verdict. The people cannot accept this verdict and will lose faith in the judiciary,” he said.

Defence counsel Moudud Ahmed said they would appeal against the verdict before the High Court after getting the certified copy of the verdict.

Talking to this correspondent, another defence counsel, Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, said: “The judgment was dictated and designed to keep the former prime minister out of the next election. We will seek bail from the High Court for her and a stay order on the trial court’s verdict.”

Another defence counsel, Advocate Abdur Rezzaque Khan, hoped that the BNP chief would be acquitted by the High Court as she has been sentenced illegally. “The court sentenced the BNP chief without mentioning any charges against her, which is illegal in the eye of the law. I hope she will be acquitted by the High Court,” he said.

Defence counsels Mahbub Uddin Khokan and Sanaullah Miah said they have sought the certified copy of the verdict from the court and will file an appeal before the High Court next Sunday after receiving the certified copy. On the other hand, the prosecution team expressed satisfaction over the verdict, saying they are happy.

Prosecutor Mosarraf Hossain Kajol said they have continued the legal battle for the last 10 years and finally received justice from the court. “We are happy with the verdict as it proves that no one is above the law,” Kajol added. Members of the prosecution team were seen rejoicing inside and outside the courtroom after the verdict. They said it was the result of their long legal battle.

After the verdict, law enforcers were seen preparing to take Khaleda to jail. They finally took her to the day-care centre of old Dhaka’s Central Jail on Nazimuddin Road 20 minutes after the verdict around 2.50pm.

On January 25, after concluding the final hearing of arguments of the defence and the prosecution, special court-5 judge Md Akhtaruzzaman fixed February 8 for delivering the verdict.

On July 3, 2008, the ACC filed the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case, accusing Khaleda, Tarique Rahman and four others of misappropriating more than Tk. 2.10 crore that had come as grants for orphans from a foreign bank.

On February 1, the same court fixed February 25–26 for hearing of arguments in the Zia Charitable Trust graft case.

On August 8, 2011, the ACC filed the case with Tejgaon police station, accusing four people, including Khaleda Zia, of abusing power in raising funds for the trust from unknown sources.

Apart from these two cases, the law ministry, on January 8 this year, shifted 16 cases filed against Khaleda to the same court at Bakshibazar in old Dhaka.  Khaleda is currently facing 37 cases on various allegations.

Many prosecution members alleged that the Zia Orphanage Trust fund was created as part of the embezzlement scheme and only Khaleda administered the funds. They also said that as the verdict went against Khaleda, there is a possibility that she might not be able to contest the election slated for December this year.

In her 35 years of political career, Khaleda has been in jail several times but never due to conviction. She was detained several times during the anti-Ershad movement in the 1980s and in 1990. During the 2007-2008 tenure of the Army-backed caretaker government, she was in jail for about a year.

Khaleda was made vice-chairperson of the BNP in March 1983 after the assassination of her husband Ziaur Rahman. She became chairperson of the party on May 10, 1984 and has continued her party activities by holding this post till date.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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