Thursday, July 19, 2007
Bangladesh: Former PM held on corruption charge
Police escort … the former prime minister of Bangladesh Sheik Hasina Wajed arrives at court in the capital Dhaka to face charges of extortion. Photo: AFP
Former PM held on corruption charge
Shafiq Alam in Dhaka
July 17, 2007
THE former Bangladeshi prime minister Hasina Wajed was arrested on corruption charges yesterday, setting off an angry showdown between police and her supporters.
The doyenne of Bangladeshi politics, who led the country from 1996 to 2001, was ordered to be held in custody while police investigate allegations of extortion against her.
"She has been arrested on … charges of extortion and the law will take its own course," Mainul Husein, an adviser to the army-backed interim Government and the head of the law and information ministries, told reporters.
Hundreds of police and elite security forces descended on her Dhaka residence at dawn, cutting off telephone lines and sealing all roads in the vicinity.
"A couple of hundred people held a procession as the police were escorting Sheik Hasina to jail," said Deen Mohammed, an assistant commissioner of Dhaka police. "We fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells at the unruly supporters and we have arrested several people."
Police filed two cases against Sheik Hasina in June for extorting 80 million taka ($1.36 million) from two businessmen; she was arrested in relation to one of the cases yesterday.
Sheik Hasina was also accused of corruption and misuse of power during her term in office. She has denied the claims.
Sheik Hasina's lawyers have made no comment. "We will come out soon with all the details," one lawyer said.
One leader of her party, the Awami League, earlier said she had been ordered to be remanded in police custody for a month, but court officials later said she had been sent to jail and the period of detention had not been specified.
"It's a sheer conspiracy to expel me from politics. Neither myself nor my family were ever involved in any sort of corruption," a lawyer quoted Sheik Hasina as telling the court.
The nation has been in political turmoil since January, when an army-backed emergency government took power after violent protests by supporters of Sheik Hasina and her arch-rival, Khaleda Zia, forced elections to be cancelled.
The new authorities have vowed to clean up the country's notoriously graft-ridden politics before holding new elections in December next year.
Sheik Hasina's son, Sajid Wajed Joy, condemned the arrest.
"It is a conspiracy against her and against democracy," he told the private Bangla Vision television network by telephone from the US.
"We need to fight like we did in 1971 against this Government to free her and establish democracy in the country," he said, referring to Bangladesh's war of independence against Pakistan.
Sheik Hasina is the daughter of Bangladesh's independence leader and its first prime minister, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, who was killed with most of his family in a 1975 military coup.
A string of charges have been filed against her in recent months, including murder in relation to the deaths of four people in a protest last October.
More than 150 high-profile politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats have been arrested in the corruption crackdown. A handful have been convicted by special courts and sentenced to between three and 13 years.
The crackdown has targeted members of both Sheik Hasina's Awami League and Begum Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
In April the Government tried to exile Sheik Hasina by barring her from returning to Bangladesh from the US, where she had been visiting relatives.
The murder charges and some corruption charges were also filed against her in her absence. But the Government backed down and on her return she was welcomed by thousands of supporters.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters
Facing the music
* Sheik Hasina, leader of the Awami League Party, was prime minister from 1996 to 2001.
* In April the military-backed caretaker Government tried to ban her from returning from London and tried to exile another former prime minister Khaleda Zia to Saudi Arabia.
* Sheik Hasina overturned the ban and returned to Dhaka on May 7.
* She now faces charges of extortion, corruption and murder.
Posted by lmurx at 6:16 PM