Bangladesh’s High Court on Thursday sentenced the eldest son of opposition leader and former premier Khaleda Zia to seven years in jail for money laundering, scrapping his acquittal by a lower court three years ago.
A two-judge bench made the decision against Tarique Rahman, who is the heir apparent to Zia, throwing a major challenge for the former prime minister to rise against her arch-rival, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Rahman, the 51-year-old senior vice chairman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has been living in exile in Britain since 2008, when he left the country after securing bail on medical grounds.
The verdict in the case filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) came at a time when Bangladesh is struggling to fight a rising Islamist militancy. There has been growing concern that Hasina will further consolidate her powers in the days to come.
The government regularly blames Zia and her party of being in a partnership with the Jamaat-e-Islami in an anti-government alliance.
Zainul Abedin, a defence lawyer, told reporters the court had also fined Rahman 200 million Takas and upheld an earlier verdict of seven years of jail for his businessman friend Giasuddin Al Mamun. The court, however, lowered the previous fine imposed on Mamun from 400 million Takas to 200 million Takas.
A trial court had in November 2013 acquitted Rahman in the case but jailed Mamun.
According to the case, Rahman and Mamun were accused of siphoning off 204.1 million Takas to Singapore between 2003 and 2007 after taking the money from a construction company as bribe. Rahman also spent some money from the amount, the prosecution said.
The High Court on Thursday also asked authorities to take steps to bring Rahman back from London but there are procedural complexities as Britain and Bangladesh have no extradition treaty.
The BNP has accused the then authorities of torturing Rahman in custody after a military-backed caretaker government arrested him on various charges in 2007 during a state of emergency rule.
Zia ruled Bangladesh during 2001-2006 but chaos began after an opposition alliance led by Hasina and Zia’s government failed to agree on how the next elections would be held.
After months of chaos, the military installed a caretaker government that conducted an election in late 2008. Hasina came to power with an overwhelming majority through that election.