DHAKA  - A court paved the way for corruption charges to be pressed against Bangladesh’s opposition leader which could end up preventing the former premier from contesting next year’s election. Khaleda Zia is accused by the Anti-Corruption Commission of abusing her power while in office between 2001-6 by forcing people to donate to a charity named after her late husband, a former president who was assassinated in 1981. Zia was present at the crowded court hearing in Dhaka. Judge Zahirul Haque of the Metropolitan Sessions Court accepted the charge sheet which named her the “main accused” in the case, prosecution lawyer Mosharraf told AFP.

 “The case has been taken for cognisance for the purpose of trial,” Hossain said, adding that the court would also issue an arrest warrant against her fugitive political secretary who is a trustee of the charity. The court will now hear arguments on whether it should press charges against Zia. If convicted, she could face a maximum seven years in jail and be banned from taking part in any future elections. Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was crushed in the last parliamentary elections in 2008 by the Awami League party of her bitter rival Sheikh Hasina, who is now prime minister. Her lawyer Sanaullah Mia told AFP the case was “false” and “politically motivated”, adding the charity was a private organisation and not under the jurisdiction of the anti-graft body. Both Hasina and Zia were detained for a year until the middle of 2008 as part of an anti-corruption crackdown launched by an army-backed caretaker government. The charges against Hasina have all been thrown out since she came to power after the 2008 elections. In recent months the BNP has enforced a series of crippling nationwide strikes demanding polls under a neutral technocrat-led administration. It says it fears vote-rigging if the Hasina government organises the elections due in January 2014.