Bangladesh prosecutors seek life sentence for opposition leader Khaleda Zia

Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia (centre) leaving a court in Dhaka on Dec 28, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh prosecutors on Thursday (Jan 25) demanded life imprisonment for opposition leader Khaleda Zia for corruption.

The two-time prime minister and head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party could be banned from standing in a national election this year if she is convicted. Zia has said the case is politically motivated.

The trial of Zia and her son Tarique Rahman before a special anti-corruption court ended on Thursday, and a judge said a verdict would be delivered on Feb 8.

"We hope all the accused of this case will be sentenced to life in jail," lead prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kazal told reporters after making closing arguments.

Prosecutors have accused Zia, her son and aides of stealing some 21 million taka (S$329,000) from a trust created for an orphanage.

Hearings have been delayed for years by numerous petitions to higher courts.

Zia's lawyers say the charges are aimed at keeping Zia and her family, which ruled the country for 15 years, from politics.

"It is not a criminal case. It is a political case," her lawyer Moudud Ahmed, a former justice minister, told AFP.

"She will be acquitted. It is a case of no evidence," he added.

Zia faces dozens of separate charges related to violence and corruption.

Her son, who is in exile in London, was convicted of money laundering in 2016.

Last month prosecutors sought the death sentence for Rahman for his alleged role in a deadly 2004 grenade attack in which current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was injured.

The trial is fraught with risk for the authorities.

A conviction of the 72-year-old Zia could trigger protests by her centre-right BNP and Islamist allies. Similar demonstrations in 2014 and 2015 around elections left nearly 200 people dead.

Prime Minister Hasina this month announced a general election would be held this year. The BNP, which boycotted 2014 polls, is expected to contest the vote.

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