Bangladesh's corruption probe sets back interim government
Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed's victory signals continued tensions that could spill into the region.
Bangladesh's High Court has quashed a corruption case against former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, which was brought about under emergency rules established by a military-backed interim government. Sheikh Hasina's lawyers successfully argued that the alleged offenses predated the emergency rules that came into force last year. The Supreme Court is due to hear an appeal Thursday from government prosecutors, who have warned that the ruling jeopardizes a broad anticorruption drive against political heavyweights.Skip to next paragraph
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The country suspended parliamentary rule in January 2007 amid preelection street violence and concerns over systematic corruption by successive elected governments. Sheikh Hasina and her archrival, Khaleda Zia, with whom she alternated power for 15 years through 2006, were detained last year along with scores of family members, senior politicians, and business associates. They were accused of massive graft, and the military promised to put them on trial and restore democratic rule by the end of 2008.
Continued instability in the world's third-most populous Muslim country could have wider implications throughout the region – and the world, analysts say. In December 2007, Bangladesh increased security for its two jailed former prime ministers after the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, reports Xinhua. Sheikh Hasina survived an attack at a 2004 rally. One Indian journalist who writes about security issues described the significance of the possible "Talibanization" of Bagladesh in the Asia Times: "The growing frequency of such attacks is triggering concern not only that Bangladesh is vulnerable to violence by Islamic fundamentalists but also that it is emerging as another Afghanistan, i.e., as a base from which terrorists can plan and carry out attacks elsewhere."
The two detained politicians have claimed the corruption cases are a ruse to bar them from competing in future elections, the BBC reports. Hasina's lawyer Rafiq-ul Huq said Wednesday's High Court ruling "has ensured the supremacy of the constitution." The prosecution alleges that Hasina and two family members extorted about $435,000 from a local businessman during her term in office between 1996 and 2001. All have denied the charges.
The Supreme Court has sided with authorities during previous appeals against lower court rulings, however, and Karul Islam, another lawyer for Hasina, predicted a short-lived legal victory, reports Agence France-Presse.
"We will fight in the Supreme Court, although we have very dim hope for a positive verdict. In the past, the Supreme Court's appellate division has overturned all the High Court verdicts in favour of the government," he said…
Hasina faces a maximum 14 years in jail if convicted. The trial is expected to be concluded within the next two months, as stipulated by the country's emergency rules.