Thursday, February 21, 2008

Switzerland Pursues Zardari Corruption Charges

Months after the amnesty signed by President Musharraf, Switzerland is continuing to pursue corruption charges against Mr. Zardari. Asif Zardari, the widower of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is accused of depositing $55 million worth of bribes in Swiss bank accounts. Swiss judicial authorities have been investigating Zardari and Bhutto for the past 10 years over allegations that they took bribes from Swiss cargo inspection firms and transfered them into their accounts, according to Reuters and Al Jazeera.

At a hearing on Feb 20, Swiss lawyers for Pakistan argued that money-laundering charges against Zardari should proceed in Geneva despite Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, dropping all graft charges against the couple last year. The constitutionality of the amnesty has not yet been ratified by the supreme court in Pakistan. The Swiss lawyers said the decision was expected in "a few weeks".
Dominique Henchoz, Pakistan's Swiss lawyer, told the Geneva court: "This dossier is a bomb for Zardari. "His name appears on each page as the beneficial owner of offshore companies. Some 60 million Swiss francs have been frozen in Geneva accounts", reports Al Jazeera. Saverio Lembo, Zardari's lawyer in Geneva, said that the case should be suspended until a decision on the amnesty is made.

In 2003, a Geneva court convicted Bhutto and Zardari of laundering funds linked to alleged kickbacks worth $13m. However, the verdict was thrown out on appeal and a new investigation by magistrates was dismissed last October. Charges against Bhutto ended when she was assassinated.

As Mr. Zardari attempts to put together a coalition with Mr. Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, the restoration of judiciary remains a point of contention. While this difference seems to have been glossed over temporarily, it has the potential to cause a serious split between the two coalition partners. The fact that the amnesty for Zardari signed by President Musharraf is still to be ratified by the Supreme Court will figure prominently in the outcome of any negotiations.

In spite of all the efforts by late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her US backers, and the recent electoral success of the PPP, this issue of corruption refuses to go away.
It will be interesting to see how this gets resolved. In my humble opinion, Mr. Zardari should insist on the completion of this trial to clear his and his late wife's name.

1 comment:

temporal said...

that amnesty the so called "NRO" has lapsed

and this pursuit may just be a nudge for zardari not to stray too far from the course