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Bangladesh Ex-PM Charged with Corruption - 2003-08-04

Bangladesh's former prime minister has been charged with corruption.

Bangladesh's Bureau of Anti-Corruption said Monday former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will face graft charges for buying a navy frigate at a high price while in office.

Sheikh Hasina was prime minister from 1996 to 2001. She is now the country's main opposition leader.

A businessman and four naval officers, including the country's former navy chief, Nurul Islam, also face corruption charges for their involvement in the purchase of the warship. The charges were filed Sunday in a Dhaka court following a year-long investigation.

Sheikh Hasina's government bought the frigate from a South Korean company at a cost of nearly $100 million dollars. Investigators say the lowest bid was $68 million.

A spokesman for Sheikh Hasina's party, Abdul Jalil, denies the charges, saying the deal was transparent, and alleges that the government is harassing her. The charges carry a prison term of up to five years.

Sheikh Hasina's government inducted the sophisticated warship into the navy four months before she lost the election in 2001. The present government has decommissioned it, saying the frigate has construction problems.

Sheikh Hasina is also facing corruption charges in connection with buying eight Russian-made fighter planes at a cost of $900 million. The government says it plans to resell the jets, because the maintenance costs are too high.

The ruling Bangladesh National party and the main opposition Awami League party have a history of bitter and acrimonious relations.