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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Bangladesh ex-PM in refugee row
Kazi Zafar Ahmed (Reuters)
Kazi Zafar Ahmed denies the charges against him
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has ordered an investigation into how a former Bangladeshi prime minister, convicted of embezzling public funds, was granted refugee status in Australia.

Kazi Zafar Ahmed was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail for fraudulently taking funds intended for a cancer hospital.

He was in Australia to receive medical treatment when sentence was passed.

Mr Ahmed, who was Bangladeshi prime minister from 1988-1990, has been free on bail while appealing against his sentence.

Mr Howard says he will be making "a few inquiries" about how he got his refugee status.

"On the face of it it seems a puzzling decision, but there may be a proper explanation by the people who made it," he told Australian radio.

'Sugar Zafar'

Mr Ahmed has been living with his family in Sydney and receives a disability support pension.

He told Australian radio he had been granted refugee status because his life was in danger in Bangladesh.

"They found my statement to be correct, my life was in danger and I could not get any justice, so for that reason I could not go back," he told ABC radio.

Mr Ahmed says the charges against him are "absolutely baseless" and that he is being victimised by political opponents.

He was known in Bangladesh as "Sugar Zafar" because of his alleged role in the hijacking of an aid shipment of sugar.

The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, says the decision to grant asylum to Mr Ahmed will be reviewed.

At the same time he says the government knew of the criminal proceedings in Bangladesh and accepts they were politically motivated.

Mr Ruddock says the government is not likely to revise its decision.

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