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Hasina formally charged for graft

world Updated: Jan 14, 2008 00:13 IST

A Bangladesh court on Sunday rejected a defence plea to dismiss graft charges against ex-premier Sheikh Hasina, accepting police testimony in the case as credible, a state prosecutor said.

A metropolitan sessions judge in Dhaka said police evidence presented in the past month in the case was grounds to continue the trial and formally indict her on corruption charges, state prosecutor Sharfuddin Mukul said.

The judge then ordered the examination of prosecution witnesses to start on January 17, Mukul said.

"The judge rejected the defence plea and said there is a prima facie (accepted) case and sufficient materials for framing the charges against her. Sheikh Hasina is now indicted on three charges of extortion," Mukul said.

"Under the country's penal code, she faces a maximum 14 years in jail (if convicted). Her trial will now be concluded within the next two months, as required under the country's emergency rules," he added.

The leader of the country's major Awami League party pleaded not guilty last month to extorting 435,000 dollars from a business group while she was the country's prime minister in 2000 and repeated the plea on Sunday.

Sheikh Hasina, who ruled the country from 1996-2001, is one of 150 high-profile figures who have been arrested as part of an emergency's government's crackdown on corruption.

Bangladesh's military-backed government has launched a massive crackdown aimed at cleaning up the country's notoriously corrupt politics before holding fresh elections in late 2008.

Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since January 11 last year when elections were cancelled after months of violence over vote-rigging allegations made by the Awami League against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).