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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Jail term for Khaleda Zia adviser
Harris Chowdhury
Mr Chowdhury is one of the most high profile politicians to be tried
One of the most important figures in the government of former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been given a three year jail sentence.

Harris Chowdhury was found guilty by a special anti-corruption court set up by Bangladesh's interim government.

The sentence has been imposed in absentia as he is in hiding. It is the first such sentence against a high-ranking politician.

The interim government has made tackling corruption its main objective.

Enormous influence

The fast track court - operating within the parliamentary complex in Dhaka - wanted Mr Chowdhury to give details of his assets amid suspicions that that he acquired much of his wealth illegally, Reuters news agency reports.

The courts started operating earlier this month to prosecute dozens of high profile political figures charged with corruption. Luxury cars have been seized and bank accounts frozen.

Sheikh Hasina's supporters welcome her back to Dhaka
Sheikh Hasina received a heroic welcome on her return

Two members of the Awami League have already been sentenced.

The BBC Bengali service editor Sabir Mustafa says that Mr Chowdhury was the person who controlled access to Khaleda Zia and, as such, wielded enormous influence.

He is the first member of Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to receive a jail sentence from the anti-corruption court.

His lawyers said that he would appeal against the verdict in the High Court.

Mr Chowdhury was Khaleda Zia's political secretary during her second term as prime minister, from 2001 until October 2006.

Wrongdoing denied

He was ordered to explain his wealth by the Anti-Corruption Commission after the military-backed caretaker government took power following the imposition of a state of emergency in January.

Correspondents say that many other politicians, businessmen and civil servants were ordered to make similar submissions, and have been detained for several months.

Among those arrested are Ms Zia's influential elder son, Tarique Rahman, who was arrested in March, accused of extorting $147,000 from a construction company. He has denied wrongdoing.

Ms Zia's aides said earlier this month that she was still facing curbs on her movements. They said restrictions were in place despite government assurances that she would have freedom of movement.

Bangladeshi soldier
The military-backed government says it wants an end to corruption

They say that she has recently been suffering from ill-health and was due to go to Singapore earlier this month for treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes.

But they say that she had to postpone her visit because of a sudden deterioration in her condition and because of concerns over extortion charges filed against her younger son, Arafat Rahman.

Ms Zia's rival, Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina, returned to the country this month after the military-backed caretaker government abandoned a plan to force the two women into exile.

It said then that Ms Zia was not under house arrest, and denied allegations made by her supporters that it was trying to force her out of the country.

The caretaker government says it will hold elections by the end of 2008, giving it time first to rid the country of corruption.




SEE ALSO
Bangladesh ex-PM 'still not free'
08 May 07 |  South Asia
Ex-Bangladesh PM arrives in Dhaka
07 May 07 |  South Asia
What next for Bangladesh dynasties?
26 Apr 07 |  South Asia
Opposition welcomes B'desh U-turn
26 Apr 07 |  South Asia
Q&A: Bangladesh crisis
26 Apr 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh exile plan 'delayed'
24 Apr 07 |  South Asia

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