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Australia's PM Questions Asylum Granted to Former Bangladesh Leader

Australia's prime minister wants to know why a former Bangladesh leader, who has been convicted of corruption in his home country, was granted refugee status in Australia.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock says he is standing behind his department's decision to grant a visa to Kazi Zafar Ahmed.

The former Bangladeshi prime minister left his country in 1999, shortly before being convicted and sentenced in absentia on graft charges.

Mr. Ruddock says the corruption conviction, and Mr. Ahmed's denial of it, were both fully documented in Mr. Ahmed's application for asylum. Immigration officials approved the request, after finding the Bangladeshi government's charges to be "politically motivated."

On Friday, Prime Minister John Howard ordered an investigation into the case, after a major Australian newspaper criticized the granting of refugee status to a convicted politician.

Mr. Ahmed was prime minister during the military dictatorship of Bangladesh President Hussain Mohammed Ershad. Mr. Ershad's government was deposed in a popular uprising in 1990.

Charges filed later allege that Mr. Ahmed stole millions of dollars worth of food shipments for his personal enrichment.

Mr. Ahmed told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he flatly rejects the Bangladesh verdict against him. "This is absolutely baseless, untrue and this is a case of political victimization," he said. He added that Bangladesh's leaders used the charges as a way of sidelining him as a political threat.

"I played an important role in the opposition politics and the government, the then government, was very hostile to me," asserted Mr. Ahmed.

Mr. Ahmed now lives in Sydney, and collects a disability pension due to a kidney condition.