Former Bangladesh PM challenges extortion charges

DHAKA, July 29, 2007 (AFP) – Former Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed on Sunday challenged extortion charges brought by the military-backed emergency government, her lawyer said, calling the case against her a sham. Sheikh Hasina, leader of the opposition Awami League party who served as premier from 1996 to 2001, was last week charged with extorting 435,000 dollars from a businessman as part of the government’s crackdown on corruption.

“She filed a writ petition at the High Court today challenging the legality of the case. It’s false and conspiratorial,” said one of her lawyers, Sahara Khatun.

“She was initially charged under the country’s regular laws. But hours later the home ministry ordered that the case be placed under the emergency rules,” she said.

The High Court was expected to hear the petition on Monday, she added.

Sheikh Hasina is one of 150 high-profile figures who have been arrested as part of the anti-graft crackdown by the interim government, which took power in January following months of political violence.

The former prime minister has denied the charges and told a court they were aimed at forcing her out of politics ahead of polls scheduled to be held in December 2008 —