A Bangladesh court ruled Wednesday opposition leader Khaleda Zia should stand trial for embezzlement in a case that could see her jailed for life, a prosecutor said.
The High Court rejected the former two-time premier’s appeals to halt the trial, which had been expected to start on Monday after she was indicted on charges of embezzling more than $650,000.
“Both her appeals have been rejected. There is no bar to continue her trial in the two cases,” deputy attorney general Mohammad Selim said.
A panel of two judges said the charges framed against Zia should stand and the trial could now go ahead in a special anti-corruption court in Dhaka, Selim said.
Zia’s lawyers have called the charges politically motivated, aimed at destroying her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has vowed to topple the government of arch rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Zia was indicted just weeks after Hasina was re-elected in a Jan 5 general election which the centre-right BNP and its 18 allies boycotted and denounced as a farce.
Police detained thousands of opposition officials and supporters and charged many more during and after the election, which was the bloodiest in the country’s short history.
Zia’s lawyer Sanaullah Miah said he would now lodge an appeal in the Supreme Court, the country’s highest, in a final attempt to stop the trial from going ahead.
“It is now clear that the government wants to put Zia in jail. That’s why we are not getting any justice in any court,” he said.
Prosecutors say Zia and three of her co-accused siphoned off 31.5 million taka (about $400,000) from a charitable trust named after her late husband Ziaur Rahman, a former president who was assassinated in 1981.
She is also accused of leading a group of five people, including her eldest son Tarique Rahman, in embezzling 21.5 million taka ($270,00), funds which were meant to go to orphanage set up in memory of her late husband.