Bangladesh's Anti-Corruption Commission has, for the first time, formally pressed charges against detained former premier Khaleda Zia for allegedly contracting out several gas fields to a Canadian oil company in exchange for kickbacks, officials said on Monday in Dhaka.
The powerful ACC in the emergency-ruled country has accused Zia and 10 others of "corruption" and "abuse of power" in awarding a gas exploration and extraction deal to Niko Resources Ltd, causing a loss of Taka 13,777 crore (Rs 8,233 crore) to the state while her Bangladesh Nationalist Party ruled the country from 2001 to 2006.
Detained former law minister Moudud Ahmed and former state minister for energy AKM Mosharraf Hossain of Zia's BNP government were among the others charge-sheeted in the case lodged with a magistrate court late on Monday.
This is the first time formal charges have been laid against Zia since her arrest on September 3 last year as part of a massive anti-graft campaign being spearheaded by the current interim government since its installation with crucial military support on January 12, 2007.
The ACC in its chargesheet said the 11 accused, several of them already in jail in other graft cases, should be brought to trial as the chargesagainst them 'have been proved primarily'.
ACC officials said they were expected to submit a chargesheet on Tuesday against Zia's arch-rival and Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina, another detained former premier, and six others in a related case for promoting Niko Resources Ltd through corruption while her government was in power from 1996 to 2001.
The two ex-premiershave been facing several corruption charges but this is the first graft charge where both were accused in a single case.
The ACC alleged that the grounds for awarding the contracts to "unqualified" Nico were laid during Hasina's 1996-2001 regime while the subsequent BNP government struck the final deal while it was in power from 2001-2006.
The ACC alleged that "the anti-state" joint venture agreement signed by Zia's regime also caused a loss of 1,744 bcf (billion cubic feet)gas.
The anti-graft body accused Hasina and the co-accusedof finalising the awarding gas extraction work at Chhatak, Kamta and Feni gas fields in northeastern Bangladesh to Niko declaring them "abandoned" by cheating for personal financial benefit.
Legal experts said if convicted the accused could be jailed for as high as 22years under three sections of the penal code.