Hasina defends MiG-29 purchase in court

June 3rd, 2008 - 2:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, June 3 (IANS) Bangladesh’s former prime minister Sheikh Hasina has told a court that she purchased eight MiG-29 combat aircrafts from Russia out of “concern for national security”. As the special court of Judge Golam Mortuzaa Majumder began hearing arguments on framing of charges, the government counsel produced a report of the directorate general of field intelligence (DGFI) that cautioned against purchasing the aircraft by the Hasina government (1996-2001).

Production of an intelligence report in the court where she is facing corruption charge along with six others angered Hasina and led to a heated debate, The Daily Star said Wednesday.

Bangladesh was “an impoverished country” that did not need the advanced aircraft and it was “a waste of money”, said the report, allowed to be read after much debate.

Countering the prosecution move, Hasina told the court that she was concerned about protecting the country’s independence and sovereignty, and that was why she purchased the warplanes for the Bangladesh Air Force (BAF).

Explaining the reasons behind the purchase of the supersonic warplanes, she said: “Our military policy is defensive, but we have to protect ourselves if the nation comes under attack. And I purchased the warplanes for the sake of our protection. Is it a criminal offence? If I am to stand in the dock for this offence then I am worried about the independence and sovereignty of our country.”

She also said it is the responsibility of a government to well-equip a country’s armed forces including the air force, to protect the country’s independence and sovereignty.

“If the public prosecutor questions the purchase of an essential instrument for safeguarding the nation, then we all should be worried about our sovereignty,” she added.

Hasina objected to the intelligence report being cited, asking whether it was right to reveal an intelligence report.

Public prosecutor A.B.M. Sharfuddin Khan Mukul did not reply to the court that sought an explanation.

But he later told the media that the report was required to bolster the government’s case, The Daily Star newspaper said Tuesday.

The Hasina government purchased eight MiG 29MKs from Russia in 2001 after prolonged negotiations.

The subsequent government of her political rival Khaleda Zia instituted the present case and also held a parliamentary inquiry. The parliamentary inquiry concluded that there was no wrongdoing in the purchase that was done after following proper procedures.

The present caretaker government of Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed revived the case after six years, alleging excessive payment made in cash.

Hasina’s lawyer barrister Shafique Ahmed told the media that the quoted price for the eight MiG-29 aircraft was $289 million but the government had bargained it down to $115 million through state-to-state negotiations, saving a large amount of money for the state.

The MiG purchase is one of the many cases against Hasina, whose purchase of a submarine from South Korea has also been questioned.

Both Zia and Hasina are now in jail facing trial for graft charges.

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