Bangladesh Court Sentences Top Opposition Figure for Money Laundering

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2016.07.21
Dhaka
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160721-BD-rahman-verdict-620.jpg A large poster of Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia (left) is seen in front of her party’s offices in Dhaka, alongside images of her two sons, Tarique Rahman (right) and the late Arafat Rahman Koko.
AFP

Bangladesh’s High Court dealt the political opposition a blow on Thursday by sentencing the son of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to seven years in prison for money laundering.

Defendant Tarique Rahman (pictured, Focus Bangla), the BNP’s senior vice chairman who was widely seen as a future political successor to his mother, lives in exile in London, but the court’s decision to overturn his acquittal by a lower court will make it hard for him to return to the country, observers said.

“Today’s verdict is a huge blow to his dream of succeeding his mother as the BNP chief,” political commentator Afsan Chowdhury told BenarNews.

Thursday’s ruling by a two-member panel marked the latest legal setback facing a leader of Bangladesh’s main opposition party.  BNP officials reacted by accusing the ruling Awami League party of using the courts to go after and eliminate their senior leadership.

Zia and other senior BNP officials, for example, have been charged with arson in deadly fire bombings of buses that took place during BNP-led anti-government protests in January 2015. And in November, a high-ranking BNP official, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, was executed for alleged crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

“This is a deep-rooted conspiracy. On behalf of the BNP, I strongly condemn the government plot to purge Tarique Rahman,” Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, senior joint secretary of the BNP, told a news conference in Dhaka after the verdict.

 The two High Court judges reversed Rahman’s acquittal in a case in which he was accused of taking a bribe of 200 million taka (U.S. $2.5 million) in awarding a contract for the construction of an 80-megawatt power plant, when the BNP ruled Bangladesh from 2001 until 2006. They also penalized him with a 200 million taka fine.

“We are astonished by the verdict; my client has not got justice. Tarique Rahman has no connection with the money laundering. We will appeal at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against this verdict,” Joynal Abedin, Rahman’s chief lawyer, told BenarNews.

‘A fugitive enjoys no right to appeal’

In November 2013, the trial court acquitted Rahman but sentenced his business partner, Giasuddin Al Mamun, to seven years in prison and a fine of 400 million taka (U.S. $5 million) for having collected the bribe money and depositing it in a bank in Singapore.

On Thursday, the High Court upheld Al Mamun’s conviction, but halved his original fine to 200 million taka, Abedin said.

Rahman was allowed to travel to England in 2007 for medical treatment, but he has since not returned home where he faces a graft case brought by Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

“The High Court Bench has found Tarique Rahman guilty of laundering money by using his political influence,” ACC counsel Khurshid Alam Khan told BenarNews.

At the time Rahman left his country, a military-backed neutral caretaker government ruled Bangladesh and launched a crackdown on leading politicians.

Law Minister Anisul Haq said Rahman likely will not be able to challenge Thursday’s decision to an apex court.

“He will not get the chance to appeal because he has been living in London. A fugitive enjoys no right to appeal. He will be allowed to appeal only if he surrenders or we bring him back,” Haq told BenarNews.

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