The other three accused were also sentenced to seven years jail
Eight months into her five-year jail term in a corruption conviction, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia has been awarded seven years’ rigorous imprisonment in the Zia Charitable Trust corruption case in connection with the embezzlement of around Tk3.15 crore.
Her former political secretary Harris Chowdhury and two others were also sentenced in the same in the verdict delivered on Monday by Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of Dhaka Special Judge Court 5, set up at the old central jail.
Additionally, all the convicts - the then prime minister Khaleda, Harris, assistant private secretaries (APS) to Harris - Ziaul Islam Munna, and Monirul Islam Khan, APS to former Dhaka mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka were also fined Tk10 lakh each.
Harris has been absconding, and Khaleda has refused to come to court. Ziaul and Monirul were present on the dock when the judge read out the operative part from the verdict. The court said that it analyzed 15 aspects of the charges during the trial to come up with the decision.
It ordered the state to confiscate 0.694 acre of land purchased under the name of the trust, and ordered the issuance of an arrest warrant against Harris.
The court observed that being the state’s most powerful person at that time, Khaleda misused her power to collect funds from people for the trust, and spent the money for personal use.
Terming her act unacceptable, the court said that Khaleda should be awarded exemplary punishment so that in future no one in such a position of power is encouraged to engage in such corruption.
In the same way, the court said that the other accused should be punished equally as they assisted in the act while holding important positions in the government.
Earlier in the day the Supreme Court rejected a leave-to-appeal petition filed by Khaleda Zia challenging a High Court judgment that allowed this court to continue trial in Zia Charitable Trust corruption case in the BNP chief’s absence.
Khaleda had expressed lack of confidence against the trial when she appeared before it inside the Old Dhaka Central Jail for the last time on September 5. She said that she would not come again as she was sick.
Her lawyers also skipped later court proceedings and were not present at the court when the verdict was delivered.
For abetting in such crimes, the rest of the accused were sentenced under section 109 of the Penal Code.
The case was filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission with the Tejgaon Police Station in August 2011, accusing Khaleda and others of abusing power to raise funds for the trust from unknown sources.
Charges against the convicts
According to the case’s charge sheet, Khaleda formed the trust under her husband Ziaur Rahman’s name and her former residence’s address in the cantonment. Her sons Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman were trustees, but they did not spend any money. Abusing the power of prime minister, she collected funds for the trust from various sources.
Khaleda had the trust registered with the Gulshan Sub-Registry Office, stating on paper that the trust money would be used for charity purposes. She did not spend any money but with help of the others accused, illegally collected funds, kept that in an account of Sonali Bank’s Prime Minister’s Office branch and did several transactions.
The charge sheet said the accused by different means collected and deposited around Tk2 crore to the account from unknown sources. When Khaleda was the prime minister, several transactions were made in the account but none since she stepped down.
Khaleda knew that Tk1.9 crore in the account came from illegal sources as she was the first managing trustee, the charges say. A total of Tk3.15 crore was collected and spent in the name of the trust.
Harris Chowdhury helped buy land with the illegal money with assistance of the other accused. Ziaul deposited money on several occasions to the trust through pay-in slips. He also deposited money to the account which came in the name of Harris.
Monirul Islam also helped Harris deposit illegally collected money in the account through pay orders.