| Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari
Islamabad, Aug. 5 (Reuters): A Swiss magistrate has found exiled former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her jailed husband guilty of money laundering and ordered them to pay over $11 million to the state, the Pakistani government said today.
At a news briefing in Islamabad, information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed produced documents from Swiss investigating magistrate Daniel Devaud dated July 30 sentencing the exiled Bhutto and husband Asif Ali Zardari to six months in prison. They strongly denied any wrongdoing, and said they were deciding whether to appeal against the decision.
“The investigation officer’s order is illogical, unreasonable, inconsistent with law... and is politically motivated,” their defence attorney Farooq Naek said in a statement.
He also said that Bhutto, a bitter rival of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and her estranged husband who is in jail in Pakistan on corruption charges, had been given six month suspended sentences and fined $50,000 each.
The case relates to accusations dating back to the 1990s that Bhutto had access to money through kickbacks from Swiss companies dealing with Pakistan.
Pakistani officials from the National Accountability Bureau have visited Switzerland over the last few years and asked investigators there to look into the allegations.
Bhutto lives in exile in London and Dubai, and is threatened with arrest if she tries to return to Pakistan, where she also faces corruption charges dating back to her two periods in office during the 1980s and 1990s.
“Now this is proved in a foreign court that they are involved in money laundering,” Ahmed said. “The government of Pakistan has decided that it will spend the whole amount (of funds returned) on relief operations for flood victims in Sindh and Baluchistan,” he added, referring to floods in southern Pakistan that claimed more than 100 lives.
The Swiss documents order the confiscation of over $11 million held in at least two Swiss bank accounts. It also orders that a necklace it says was acquired by Bhutto in London be given to the Pakistani government. It said the necklace was worth £117,000 ($188,000).
Opponents of Bhutto in Pakistan are likely to use the charges against her and her husband to further undermine their position.
Many Pakistanis are already convinced of their guilt, and do not want Bhutto to return to her homeland. But she has the charisma and support to cause severe embarrassment to Musharraf were she to come out of exile and face charges against her. Ahmed said the Swiss investigation and sentencing gave all outstanding cases against Bhutto and her husband a“new lease of life”.