World News

Bangladesh starts graft trial of ex-PM Khaleda

DHAKA (Reuters) - Former Bangladesh prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia went on trial on Wednesday on corruption charges over a port deal, officials said.

It is the latest graft case to come to trial as part of what the interim government says is its drive to rid the country of corruption and ensure free and fair elections by the end of the year.

Also facing prosecution in the same case are Khaleda’s second son Arafat Rahman, plus 15 others including ex-ministers and former senior officials.

All have pleaded not guilty.

According to the prosecution, Khaleda and her son Arafat influenced the authorities to award the deal in 2003 to an obscure local company to handle containers at the main port in Chittagong. She is accused of accepting kick-backs from the company.

Khaleda denied the charges and said the case was filed to ruin her political career.

“We all here are innocent. Any fair trial will acquit us honorably,” her lawyers quoted her as telling the judge.

The court was adjourned until June 10 after both sides laid out their cases, a court official said.

Khaleda, prime minister from 2001 to 2006, faces a separate trial on graft charges involving a Canadian oil exploration firm. She appeared in court on Sunday to hear those charges.

Khaleda and her rival former prime minister Sheikh Hasina have been held in separate buildings in the parliament compound since their arrest last year as part of the anti-graft crackdown.

The interim government has created special courts to deal with cases being handled by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January last year when the interim government took charge following months of political violence.

More than 170 leading politicians, including dozens of ex-ministers, have been detained in the anti-corruption drive. Nearly 50 of them have been convicted.

Reporting by Nizam Ahmed; Editing by David Fogarty