DHAKA (Reuters) - Security forces arrested former Bangladesh prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia for corruption on Monday, underlining the interim government’s drive to root out graft under an emergency rule imposed eight months ago.
Khaleda now joins her bitter rival and another former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and more than 170 senior political figures behind bars.
Mainul Husein, the army-backed administration’s law and information adviser, said Khaleda’s arrest proved that “no one is above the law” in the government’s drive against corruption.
“Khaleda Zia’s arrest was delayed because they (the Anti-Corruption Commission) needed some time to have all the necessary proofs in hand,” he told reporters.
The arrest of Khaleda and her younger son, Arafat Rahman, came after the commission accused her of illegally influencing the selection of an operator for two state-run container depots in 2003, during her second term in power.
Arafat had allegedly influenced his mother to select the operator of his choice, police said.
The son was remanded to police custody for a week for interrogation.
Khaleda was refused bail after she was arrested at her Dhaka home and was taken to a jail near the parliament building. “It came as a relief to those who started believing that this government is behaving leniently with her, while being rude to Hasina,” said a senior government official.
Hasina, who was detained in July and faces multiple charges of extortion and corruption, is also in a special prison set inside a parliament compound. Her trial has not yet started.
The interim government took over in January, cancelled an election planned for that month and imposed a state of emergency which banned political activity and protests by political parties or any other groups.
Political analysts said that with Khaleda’s arrest the government had completed the “hunting of the big hawks” and proved it had no political bias.
“Both birds are now in the cage,” said a private bank official and political observer. “But if these arrests are a tit-for-tat game, I suspect it would not do any good for the country or its people.”
Retired Brigadier-General Shahedul Anam, a defense analyst, said Khaleda’s arrest was long expected.
“Now the government should proceed carefully to ensure a fair and open trial for them for alleged corruption, and to disprove perception that it was still pursuing a ‘minus two’ policy,” he said.
This referred to speculation in the media and political circles that the interim authority was bent on keeping Khaleda and Hasina out of next year’s election, while encouraging little or previously unknown groups to take the reins. The interim administration has denied this.
But Talukder Moniruzzaman, a retired Dhaka University professor of political science, said the detentions could encourage the two leaders’ followers to join forces against the government.
“If they do, together they can pose a very big challenge to the government,” he said.
Khaleda’s elder son and political heir, Tareque Rahman, was detained in March by security forces as part of the crackdown on corruption ahead of elections planned for late next year.
The government says the army is supporting it in carrying out reforms in one of the most corrupt countries in the world in order to create conditions for a free and fair election.
Additional reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir, Ruma Paul, Azad Majumder, Nizam Ahmed and Masud Karim