Police arrested former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and one of her sons Monday on charges of corruption and misuse of power, a police official said.
Bangladesh’s military-backed government canceled elections earlier this year after months of politically motivated violence, and Monday’s arrest appeared to be the latest in a series of moves by authorities to undermine the country’s political elite, a group widely viewed as deeply corrupt.
A Dhaka court refused bail to Zia and sent her to jail pending trial, her lawyer Rafiqul Islam Miah told reporters at the court.
From the court, Zia, escorted by hundreds of police, was taken to a makeshift prison near the Parliament building. Her prison is just a few blocks away from where her archrival and another ex-premier, Sheikh Hasina, has been held since July on extortion charges.
The officials arrested Zia at her home in the Bangladeshi capital hours after a case was filed by an anti-corruption official against her and her son Arafat Rahman Coco, Dhaka Metropolitan Police official Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman told The Associated Press by phone.
Allegation: Misuse of power
Zia, who ended her five-year term in October, is accused of misusing her power by awarding contracts to a local company, Global Agro Trade Company, when she was in office in 2003. Coco allegedly influenced his mother to approve the deal.
The complaint said Zia’s administration did not follow standard procedure in awarding the company work involving two cargo terminals, one in Dhaka’s Kamlapur Railway Station and another in the country’s main Chittagong seaport.
Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The country’s military-backed government arrested Zia’s elder son, Tarique Rahman, on charges of extortion in March. Rahman, a senior leader of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is now in jail awaiting trial.
A case was filed separately late Sunday against Hasina on charges of taking a bribe in return to allow a company to build a power plant when she was in power in 1997, a police official said.
Hasina, a bitter rival of Zia, is accused of taking $435,000 from the Khulna Power Company Ltd. to approve the project, Dhaka Metropolitan Police official Jane Alam told reporters. She and her party denied the allegation.
She faces three other charges of extortion and has been in jail awaiting trial since July 16.
Bangladesh has been ruled since mid-January by an interim government installed by the military after 30 people were killed in political clashes following the end of Zia’s term. National elections planned for Jan. 22 were canceled. A state of emergency is in force in the South Asian country, barring all political gatherings.
The government, led by a former central bank governor, has vowed to fight corruption, reform electoral rules and clean up the nation’s factional and often violent politics before holding the next elections.
Zia and Hasina have dominated Bangladesh’s politics since their joint campaign ended years of military rule and restored democracy to their impoverished nation in 1990. The two women head the country’s two biggest parties and their supporters — many of them jailed on corruption charges — have frequently engaged in deadly street clashes, undermining the country’s stability.
Some analysts, however, see their arrests as politically motivated.
“The arrests of the two leaders indicate that the campaign is more politically motivated than targeting corruption,” said Bazlur Rahman, editor of Dhaka’s Sangbad daily.
“It now seems that they (the government) want to weaken the two large political parties to prevent them from winning the next election. I think the government wants to hold the election, but a hand-picked Parliament is what it wants,” he said.
According to Rahman the emergency rule may be prolonged until the polls, planned for next year, are held.
At least six former ministers from both Hasina’s Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have already been tried for corruption and misuse of power.
Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 145 million people, has been ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries by the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.