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Complainant declines to name Hasina

world Updated: Jan 31, 2008 12:24 IST

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Testifying in court in Bangladesh's first trial against a former prime minister, businessman Azam J Chowdhury has refused to name Sheikh Hasina who has been charged with extorting money from him for clearing a business deal.

Chowdhury, who had told journalists on January 24 that he did not file the extortion case against Hasina and that her name was inserted by the investigators, said in the trial that began on Wednesday that he blamed her cousin and former minister Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim for receiving 29 million takas ($500,000).

According to media reports, Chowdhury, the first prosecution witness, fended insistent queries from the prosecution lawyers who asked him about Hasina's role.

Hasina's name appeared only twice in the deposition as Chowdhury quoted his conversations with Selim, the former premier's cousin and another accused in the case, while striking the extortion deal, The Daily Star said.

Both Hasina and Selim have denied the charge, which they say is politically motivated.

Chowdhury told the court that Selim had assured him that he would get the job to build the 210 MW power plant at Siddhirganj with the help of "the then prime minister".

He quoted Selim as saying that if the money was not given to the prime minister as well as him the work would be stopped.

Despite prosecution lawyers' insistence, Chowdhury did not mention the name of the Awami League chief as an accused.

He told the court that he only knew Selim, who was standing on the opposite docket with Hasina, as an accused in relation to the case.

Earlier in the day while the charges were being framed, Hasina told the court that she did not know Chowdhury.

Hasina's Canadian counsel Payam Akhavan has said the charges brought against her were "politically motivated" and were intended to throw her out of politics and the next parliamentary election.

"I want to say after observing everything that there is political motive behind bringing charges against Sheikh Hasina," said the counsel, who has applied to meet the jailed leader.