DHAKA (Reuters) - Security forces arrested former Bangladesh prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia for corruption on Monday, a signal of the interim government’s determination to root out graft under the emergency rule imposed eight months ago.
Khaleda now joins her bitter rival and another former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and more than 170 senior political figures behind bars.
Mainul Husein, the army-backed administration’s law and information adviser, said Khaleda’s arrest proved that “no one is above the law” in the government’s drive against corruption.
“Khaleda Zia’s arrest was delayed because they (the Anti-Corruption Commission) needed some time to have all the necessary proofs in hand,” he told reporters.
The arrest of Khaleda and her younger son, Arafat Rahman, came after the commission accused her of illegally influencing the selection of an operator for two state-run container depots in 2003, during her second term in power.
Arafat had allegedly influenced his mother to select the operator of his choice, police said.
The son was remanded to police custody for a week for interrogation.
Khaleda was refused bail after she was arrested at her Dhaka home and was taken to a jail near the parliament building.
“It came as a relief to those who started believing that this government is behaving leniently with her, while being rude to Hasina,” said a senior government official.
Hasina, who was detained in July and faces multiple charges of extortion and corruption, is also in a special prison set inside a parliament compound. Her trial has not yet started.
Political analysts said that with Khaleda’s arrest the government had completed the “hunting of the big hawks” and proved it had no political bias.
“Both birds are now in the cage,” said a private bank official and political observer. “But if these arrests are a tit-for-tat game, I suspect it would not do any good for the country or its people.”
Hundreds of Khaleda supporters thronged the court building, making it difficult for police to take her in, witnesses said.
“Madam, we are with you,” chanted her supporters, as Khaleda, wearing a cream-coloured silk sari, waved and smiled at them.
“She was cool and showed no sign of anxiety,” one witness said. “She looked brave and composed as ever.”
Khaleda’s elder son and political heir, Tareque Rahman, was detained in March by security forces as part of the crackdown on corruption ahead of elections planned for late next year.
The interim government took over in January, cancelled an election planned for that month and imposed a state of emergency which banned political activity and protests by political parties or any other groups.
It says the army is supporting it in carrying out reforms in one of the most corrupt countries in the world in order to create conditions for a free and fair election.
Additional reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir, Ruma Paul, Azad Majumder and Nizam Ahmed