The High Court yesterday directed BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia to surrender before a lower court within two months to face trial in the Gatco graft case.
The two-month countdown will begin only after the HC verdict has been received by the lower court -- the Special Judge's Court-3 of Dhaka.
The HC came up with the verdict after rejecting the BNP chief's two writ petitions that challenged the legality of filing the case and her trial in it.
The bench of Justice Md Nuruzzaman and Justice Abdur Rob also lifted previous HC orders in the case under which Khaled was granted bail in 2007 and her trial was stayed in 2008.
The HC earlier rejected Khaleda's three other petitions, clearing the way for her trial in Zia Orphanage Trust, Zia Charitable Trust and Niko graft cases in lower courts.
Another petition challenging the legality of the BNP chairperson's trial in Barapukuria corruption case has been pending with the HC.
Delivering the verdict yesterday, the HC bench observed that Khaleda's writ petitions were not acceptable since nobody can challenge the court proceedings of a criminal case as per a Supreme Court order.
It said the Gatco case included primary ingredients of offences committed by Khaleda Zia. “The lower court will examine the allegations against her.”
The Anti-Corruption Commission has the authority to investigate the allegation of corruption against anybody, added the HC.
Talking to The Daily Star, ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan said the commission had filed the case in 2007 as per law.
The trial of other accused in the case remains halted following stay orders by the HC. The commission will take steps to vacate those orders, he noted.
Khaleda's counsel Khandker Mahbub Hossain said her client would challenge the HC verdict at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
The ACC on September 2, 2007 had filed the Gatco graft case with Tejgaon Police Station under the emergency power rules. It accused Khaleda, her younger son Arafat Rahman Koko (now dead), Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Motiur Rahman Nizami and 10 others of corruption.
According to the case statement, there was corruption in the awarding of a contract to Global Agro Trade (Pvt) Company Ltd (Gatco) for container management at inland depots in Dhaka and Chittagong. The graft allegedly cost the state exchequer over Tk 1,000 crore.
After hearing a writ petition filed by Khaleda, the HC on September 30, 2007 granted bail to her and issued a rule upon the government and the ACC to explain why bringing corruption charges under the emergency power rules should not be declared illegal.
The HC on July 15, 2008, stayed the case proceedings against Khaleda and issued another rule upon the government and the graft watchdog to explain why the case proceedings should not be quashed.
After hearing replies to the rules, the HC on June 17 kept the petitions waiting for verdict.
Khaleda was arrested in the case on September 2, 2007. She was freed in the following year after she was granted bail in Gatco and three other cases.
The BNP yesterday alleged that judges cannot discharge their duties free from government influence.
The party made the allegation hours after the HC bench rejected Khaleda's two petitions in connection with the Gatco graft case.
Speaking at a press conference at the party's Nayapaltan central office, BNP spokesperson Asaduzzaman Ripon said law is not being evenly enforced on all citizens. Rather, two types of law have been in force for the ruling and opposition parties.
The Niko and other graft cases against Sheikh Hasina (prime minister) have been stayed as she is in power, while the cases against Khaleda Zia have been on trial since she is not in power, complained Ripon.