DHAKA, Bangladesh – A Bangladesh court Thursday sentenced the fugitive son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to six years in jail for laundering money taken as bribes from two global companies — a verdict that could trigger violent protests by opposition parties.
Judge Mohammad Mozammel Hossain said in his verdict Arafat Rahman was guilty of smuggling more than 200 million takas ($2.66 million) to Singapore. The judge also fined Rahman 190 million takas ($2.53 million) and asked authorities to get the smuggled money returned.
Rahman, the younger son of Zia, was accused of taking bribes from China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd. and the Bangladesh subsidiary of Germany's industrial giant Siemens AG for helping them win government contracts during his mother's 2001-2006 premiership.
Defense lawyer Sanaullah Mia said the trial was politically motivated. Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main opposition party, did not accept the verdict and said it would demonstrate across the country on Sunday.
Bangladesh's fragile parliamentary democracy has a regular history of coercive opposition measures like calling general strikes and blocking highways. In the coming months it could increase its efforts to reach center stage in national politics, eyeing the next elections due in 2014.
Rahman was tried in absentia. He has been living in Bangkok since 2008 after he was released pending trial on the grounds of poor health. He later refused to return for trial.
The punishment will be effective from the day of Rahman's return or surrender, prosecution lawyer Mosharraf Hossain said.
Zia's elder son Tarique Rahman also faces several charges of corruption and misuse of power, and he lives in London for medical treatment.
The party has denied all charges against Zia's sons, saying the charges aim to destroy the image of the influential political family.
Both of them were arrested by a military-backed interim government before current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Zia's archrival, came to power through a 2008 election.
As a proof of Rahman's guilt, Hossain also referred to a 2009 move by the U.S. authorities that seized nearly $3 million related to a bribery scheme in Bangladesh involving Siemens.
Siemens pleaded guilty and had agreed to pay at least $450 million in fines to settle the U.S. corruption charges involving subsidiaries in Bangladesh, Venezuela and Argentina.
The United States had alleged that Siemens and China Harbor Engineering Company bribed Rahman to secure the contracts.
The U.S. said the bribes were routed through U.S. financial institutions, giving it jurisdiction.