Monday, September 15, 2008

Bangladesh anti-graft drive crumbling

Bangladesh anti-graft drive crumbling
Source: Khaleej Times
September 15, 2008

DHAKA- The anti-corruption drive launched in early 2007 by the army-backed government in Bangladesh is falling apart due to sloppy legal work and lack of expertise, observers say.

The government arrested scores of top politicians, including two former premiers and dozens of ex-ministers and lawmakers, after it declared emergency rule and took power in January 2007 following months of political violence.

It said the crackdown was aimed at cleaning up graft-ridden politics in Bangladesh, ranked the world's most corrupt nation by Berlin-based Transparency International.

But since June, the country's High Court has ordered the release of more than 50 "very, very important" detainees including ex-premiers Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia, deputy prisons chief Shamsul Haider Siddiqui said.

"The government filed a huge number of graft cases. But its investigators were not prepared or trained in the relevant anti-corruption laws," veteran human right lawyer and law professor Shahdeen Malik said.

"In most of the graft cases, procedural requirements were not followed. Many cases became weak long before they reached court," he said.

"As a result, many corruption cases are unlikely to end in convictions."

Borhanuddin Khan, an Oxford-trained professor who heads the law faculty at Dhaka University, agreed, blaming "legal technicalities rather than the merits" for the implosion of many of the government's cases.

"They enacted the emergency power laws and the anti-corruption laws in haste. But there were lapses in the laws and technicalities which made it easier for the top suspects to get out of custody," Khan said.

Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the Awami League party, was released on parole in June. Her arch-rival Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was freed on bail last week. The charges against both are still pending.

Observers said they were freed under deals struck by the government to secure the participation of their parties in general elections to be held by the end of 2008 -- a step towards restoring democracy here.

But their lawyer Rafique ul Haque -- who has defended scores of high-profile politicians detained under the anti-corruption drive -- says more than a dozen cases against them are without foundation and simply a means of harassment.

"If you ask me about the merit of these cases, the answer would be nil. There were no proper investigations. These cases are meant to harass them," Haque said

"They were put in jail unnecessarily. These cases will never result in punishment. Instead of punishing the two, the government has made them more popular.

Hanif Iqbal, a spokesman for the anti-corruption commission, conceded, "There are some problems but the cases are still on."

"If there are mistakes in the corruption cases, these are inadvertent and are due to lack of expertise, experience and exposure," he told AFP. "We had hiccups but we are trying our best to amend them."

Khan, of Dhaka University, said the government's campaign was waning as it had lost much of the anti-graft zeal it displayed in the initial months after it took power. "The government now looks much more ready to compromise than before," he said.

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