Bangladesh court sentences Khaleda Zia to five years in jail over corruption charges


DHAKA: A court in Bangladesh sentenced opposition leader Khaleda Zia to five years in jail on Thursday after convicting the two-time former premier of embezzling money meant for an orphanage.

Judge Mohammad Akhteruzzaman convicted Zia and sentenced her to five years in jail in a crowded courtroom, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Violent clashes broke out between security forces and protesters in Dhaka ahead of the verdict.

Police fired tear gas at thousands of opposition activists who defied heavy security to escort the car taking Zia, a two-time former prime minister, to a Dhaka court for the verdict.

The private television station Somoy said at least five police officers had been injured and two motorcycles torched during the clashes that broke out several kilometres (miles) from the court premises.

Zia, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is charged with embezzling $252,000 from a trust created for an orphanage and faces life in prison if convicted by the Dhaka magistrates’ court.

Hearings have been delayed for years by numerous petitions to higher courts.

Zia’s lawyers say the charges are aimed at keeping Zia and her family, which ruled the country for 15 years, from politics.

“It is not a criminal case. It is a political case,” her lawyer Moudud Ahmed, a former justice minister, told AFP.

Zia faces dozens of separate charges related to violence and corruption. Her son, who is in exile in London, was convicted of money laundering in 2016.

Last month, prosecutors sought the death sentence for Rahman for his alleged role in a deadly 2004 grenade attack in which current prime minister Sheikh Hasina was injured.

The trial is fraught with risk for the authorities.

Similar demonstrations in 2014 and 2015 around elections left nearly 200 people dead.

Prime Minister Hasina this month announced a general election would be held this year. The BNP, which boycotted the 2014 polls, is expected to contest the vote.