Bangladesh presses graft charges against ex-PMs

May 1st, 2008 - 1:18 pm ICT by admin  

Dhaka, May 1 (IANS) Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has approved chargesheets against detained former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia for awarding gas exploration and extraction deal to Canadian company Niko Resources. Also accused of corruption and abuse of power are 18 others, including former ministers and lawmakers, state sector officials and corporate managers, the media reported Thursday.

Eight of the 18 have been indicted in the charge sheets while 10 were named in the first information reports (FIR) of the cases.

ACC deputy director Sabbir Hasan investigated the case against Hasina while ACC assistant director Shahidur Rahman investigated the case against Zia. They will submit the chargesheets to the trial court soon, The Daily Star newspaper said.

According to the chargesheet, in the case against Hasina, the accused in collaboration with each other awarded gas extraction work at Chhatak, Kamta and Feni gas fields to Niko by seeking to gain personal financial benefit.

The chargesheet also mentions that the work was given to Niko in an illegal way without floating tender, allowing it to extract 1,794 billion cubic feet (bcf) gas from a reservation of 2,834 bcf, causing heavy financial losses to the exchequer.

The ACC also alleges that the accused cheated and abused power by showing the east part of Chhatak gas field - explored by Bangladesh but yet to be extracted - as marginal and abandoned.

While then energy secretary Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury promoted a Niko joint venture deal with the country’s national exploration company Bapex, the Hasina government could not award the deal due to lack of legal framework.

Soon after Zia’s government came to power, Niko pushed its deal again using many Bangladesh Nationalist Party bigwigs and its legal adviser Moudud Ahmed.

The controversial Niko-Bapex deal was signed in 2003 although Petrobangla experts had repeatedly said it was being done violating national policy and compromising national interest.

The then prime minister Zia held the energy minister’s portfolio. In this deal signed secretly, Niko was awarded gas exploration and extraction work at an unused gas field showing it as a marginal or previously used gas field, the newspaper said.

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