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Bangladesh High Court accepts appeal by ex-PM in graft case

February 22, 2018

FILE- In this Dec. 28, 2017 file photo, Bangladesh's former prime minister and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia, center, leaves after a court appearance in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh's High Court has accepted an appeal by former Zia of her five-year prison sentence in a corruption case. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, File)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh’s High Court on Thursday accepted an appeal by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of her five-year prison sentence in a corruption case.

A panel of two judges heard arguments from both sides in a packed courtroom and asked authorities to submit case records to it within 15 days.

The court stayed a decision to fine Zia $250,000 in the verdict and set next Sunday to hear her petition for bail.

“Yes, the court will hear her bail petition on Sunday, and we are hopeful that she will get a bail order that day,” Moudud Ahmed, a lawyer and close aide of Zia, told reporters after Thursday’s decision.

Zia, currently the country’s opposition leader, was convicted on Feb. 8 of misusing power in embezzling about $250,000 in donations meant for an orphanage trust established when she first became prime minister in 1991. Defense lawyers say the verdict was politically motivated and influenced by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

But the judge in the verdict said the defense had doctored documents submitted to the court in an effort to save Zia.

Her conviction means that Zia could be barred from running in December elections, with the country’s chief election official saying a final decision will depend on higher courts.

Bangladesh law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years.

The trial court also sentenced Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, and four others to 10 years in prison for involvement in the case.

Zia faces more than 30 other charges, ranging from corruption to sedition. Bangladesh politics are deeply fractious, with Hasina and Zia ruling the country alternately since 1991, when democracy was restored.

Both women emerged from political dynasties. Zia is the widow of Ziaur Rahman, a general-turned-president who was assassinated in 1981. Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s independence leader and first president who was assassinated in 1975 along with most of his family members. Hasina accuses Zia’s husband of a role behind the assassination.

In the last election in 2014, Zia’s party and its political allies boycotted the race, allowing Hasina to return to power with a landslide victory.

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