Dhaka:Zia son siphoned USD 2.66 milion

Dhaka: Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia`s "fugitive" elder son Tarique Rahman had siphoned out USD 2.66 million to a Singaporean bank, a FBI agent today testified before a Dhaka court.

Defence lawyers boycotted the hearing as FBI special agent Debra LaPrevotte told the special judge`s court that the US agency carried out an investigation into the alleged money laundering case responding to a request by Bangladesh government. During the nearly one and an half hour hearing she said FBI found that Tarique Rahman, also the senior vice-president of main opposition BNP, and his controversial business partner Giasuddin al Mamun had stashed away the amount.

La Prevotte also submitted two FBI documents before the court as evidence saying the documents contained details of bank accounts and credit and visa card numbers of Rahman and Mamun and other relevant papers related to the case. The court has fixed December 8 for the next date of hearing of the case. The defence lawyers earlier sought the court order to bar her from testifying on "law grounds" and then left the courtroom expressing "no confidence" against her statement as Judge Mozammel Hossain rejected their plea.

Being a "fugitive", Rahman could not formally appoint any lawyer for him under law but a number of pro-BNP lawyers, including Supreme Court Bar Association President Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, appeared as defence lawyers as co-accused Mamun`s counsels.

Hossain told the court that the FBI agent was not a witness named in the charge-sheet and according to rules she could testify only after the court recorded the statements of the named witnesses. Attorney General Mahbubey Alam also appeared before the court on behalf of the state to assist the ACC lawyers.

Rahman, now living in London, was declared "fugitive" as he defied an earlier summon by the court while Mamun was facing the trial in person as he is now in jail. He was arrested March 7, 2007 under state of emergency rule during the past military-backed interim government as part of a massive anti-graft campaign but was paroled at the fag end of the regime for receiving treatment abroad. He has since been living in Britain.

The judge on Wednesday allowed the FBI agent to testify in the graft case on a prosecution application filed by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) chief counsel Anisul Huq saying she had helped the graft watchdog investigating charges against Rahman and Mamun.

The trial of the money laundering case began on September 11 with the deposition of the complainant kicking off the trial of the first out of the 15 criminals and graft cases against Rahman and Mamun. The court in August this year indicted Rahman and Mamun and issued a warrant ordering arrest of the ex-premier`s son to be exposed to trial to face the charge that alleged the two siphoned out at least Taka 20.41 crore (USD 2.66 million) between 2003 and 2007.

Another Dhaka court earlier issued warrants against Rahman as a prime suspect of the August 21, 2004 grenade attack on a rally of now ruling Awami League of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, killing 24 people. Witnesses and officials the chief metropolitan magistrate court of Dhaka ordered them to be sent to jail as the former inspectors general of police Ashraful Huda, Khoda Baksh Chowdhury and Shahudul Haque surrendered before the court.

Rahman`s younger brother Arafat Rahman Koko in June this year handed down six years of imprisonment for siphoning off over Taka 20 crore abroad after trial in absentia. The World Bank recently released a publication mentioning the alleged embezzlement of several million dollars by Koko as "an example of stealing national assets".