Former Prime Minister and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and three others have been sentenced to seven years in prison each for embezzling Tk 31.54 million from the Zia Charitable Trust. Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman announced the verdict on Monday from the temporary premises of the court at the old central prison at Dhaka’s Nazimuddin Road. Judge Akhtaruzzaman took nearly 45 minutes to read a summary of a 600-page verdict. He found the former prime minister guilty under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1947 and sentenced her to seven years in prison and fined her Tk 1 million.
A failure to pay the fine would add six more months to her jail sentence.
The judge granted the three other suspects in the case the same sentence for abetting corrupt activity under the Penal Code.
The court order also allowed the government to seize the 70 decimals of land bought in the name of the Zia Charitable Trust.
“The suspect Begum Khaleda Zia abused her power as the head of state to raise illegal funds for her personal trust and then spent it. This is unacceptable,” the judge wrote.
“The court believes she should face strict punishment as an example in order to prevent others from doing such things in the future. The court also believes the other suspects should face strict punishment because they abetted this crime.”
The Anti-Corruption Commission that filed the case against Khaleda said they were satisfied with the verdict.
"We asked for the maximum sentence and received it," said ACC lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajol.
Though defence lawyers did not make a statement as they were not present during the hearing, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said: "Trial courts can no longer giver us justice."
He announced nationwide protests for Tuesday against the sentencing of his party chief.
The final trial proceedings in the case went ahead in the absence of Khaleda, who is serving time in jail over another graft case, after the prison authorities repeatedly failed to bring her to court.
The Zia Charitable Trust graft case was filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2011.
Khaledas former political affairs secretary Harris Chowdhury, his former aide and former BIWTA acting director Ziaul Islam Munna, and former Dhaka mayor Sadeque Hossain Khokas personal secretary Monirul Islam Khan are the three others convicted in the case.
Harris Chowdhury has been at large since the start of the case.
Ziaul Islam Munna and Sadeque Hossain Khoka were in court to hear Mondays verdict.
Khaleda has been in custody since Feb 8, when she was sentenced to five years in prison over the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case. On Oct 6 she was taken to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hospital, where she is currently receiving treatment.