Bangladesh’s highest court has rejected appeals by the country’s opposition leader Khaleda Zia, clearing the way for her to stand trial on embezzlement charges that could see her jailed for life.
A five-member appellate division of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain, dismissed Zia’s appeals questioning the legality of a special court handling her corruption case.
Zia, a two time former prime minister and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), had accused the administration of Sheik Hasina of political persecution.
“We have not got justice,” Zia’s main lawyer, Sanaullah Miah, told AFP news agency, adding Zia’s trials in the graft court could still be delayed because the Supreme Court had not yet disposed of two more appeals against the charges.
But Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters that Zia’s trial could go ahead despite the appeals.
“There is no bar for running Khaleda Zia’s trial,” he said, adding the appeals were aimed at delaying the proceedings.
Earlier the high court had rejected similar appeals by Zia, prompting her lawyers to move to the highest court in a last-ditch attempt to stop the trials.
Prosecutors have accused Zia’s lawyers of wasting time, saying hearings in the case have been delayed dozens of times.
Zia and three of her aides are accused of syphoning off 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, in embezzling $277,000 – funds which were meant to go to an orphanage set up in memory of her late husband.
Zia, who has been excused from attending the trial, said that the charges were also aimed at destroying her political party.
The 69-year-old opposition leader was charged just weeks after Hasina was re-elected in a January 5 general election which the centre-right BNP and its 18 opposition allies boycotted and denounced as a farce.
The charges date back to Zia’s last term as prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and can carry a life sentence, prosecutors have said.
Zia, who first became prime minister in 1991, has a notoriously poisonous relationship with Hasina – an enmity which dates back three decades.
The January polls effectively became a one-horse race after the BNP and other opposition parties refused to field candidates over rigging fears.
Nearly 200 people died in political violence surrounding the election as the opposition and security forces fought pitched battles.