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Govt remains adamant to reopen graft cases against President Zardari in Swiss court

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Pakistan 's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has again refused to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in a Swiss court. Gilani appeared before the Supreme Court on Thursday (1-18-2012) to explain his refusal to ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani and his lawyer Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan told the court that until Asif Zardari is holding the office of president, letter cannot be written to Swiss authorities to reopen cases as he enjoys immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution. Ahsan argued that if the Government of Pakistan writes a letter to the Swiss authorities against its own President -- it will tarnish the country's image in the world.

The letter is related to President Asif Ali Zardari's graft cases in a Swiss court that was withdrawn by the government of Pakistan under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) 2007 which was declared null and void by the Supreme Court in November 2009.

It may be recalled that in August 2003, a Swiss Court found former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her widower, Asif Zardari, guilty of money laundering. Investigation Judge Daniel Devaud sentenced them to a six-month suspended jail term, fined them $50,000 each and ordered they pay more than $2m to the Pakistani Government along with a diamond necklace. The case was related to an illegal six per cent of commission or bribe worth $12 million for awarding a pre-shipment customs inspection contract to two Swiss firms Societe Generale de Surveillance and Cotecna. The judge said they had illegally deposited millions of dollars in accounts in Switzerland and ordered the money be returned to Pakistan.

The Swiss case was withdrawn by the incumbent government under the NRO issued by the former dictator General Parwez Musharraf in October 2007 as part of a deal negotiated by the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to share power with the blessings of Washington. Unfortunately, Benazir was assassinated in December 2007 but her Party emerged as the leading party in the February 2008 elections due to a sympathy vote.

Letters made to Swiss courts requesting the withdrawal of cases against Zardari were also declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court which asked the government to take action against the former attorney general for making these requests at the instructions of the government.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a fresh report in the Supreme Court on Swiss cases which revealed that frozen Swiss accounts contained $60 million a sum that has been released. However, NAB Chairman Nawed Ahsan told the court that he had no details of the $1.5 billion assets allegedly owned by President Asif Ali Zardari outside Pakistan.

According to the NAB report, there are 12 companies holding Swiss accounts that contain $8.4 million. Zardari, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Aamir Lodhi and Benazir Bhutto are among the owners of these companies. Also, Zardari and Benazir Bhutto hold seven Swiss accounts. While the president holds four full accounts, he is a partner in three. Lodhi and Zardari are partners in one account, Nasir Hussain and Nusrat Bhutto (mother of Benazir Bhutto) hold two accounts, and lawyer Jim Shilgamal holds two accounts.

Zardari's Pakistan People's Party government has so far failed to act on the Supreme Court's directive to reopen scores of corruption cases that were closed under the NRO. The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned the prime minister's contempt hearing to Feb 1, leaving a brewing political crisis over corruption cases and presidential immunity unresolved.

Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani is the second Prime Minister in the history of Pakistan who appeared before the Supreme Court. Former Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif also appeared before the court.

$1.5 billion of Pakistan looted: Swiss institute  

The Supreme Court hearing on reopening graft cases against President Zardari coincided with a report by the International Centre for Asset Recovery of the Basel Institute on Governance in Switzerland, which reveals that President Zardari and his late spouse Benazir Bhutto were involved in looting $1.5 billion from the national coffers.

The Switzerland-based institute, which assists developing countries in making use of international legal assistance to recover their stolen assets, has revealed that only $100 million of the $1.5 billion plundered by the sitting Pakistani president and his late premier wife has so far been traced.

It further writes on its website cited by Pakistan's leading newspaper The News: "During Bhutto's terms as Prime Minister, Zardari is alleged to have masterminded various corruption related activities involving millions of dollars with Bhutto's knowledge. Zardari gained the reputation of demanding a certain percent of government contracts issued to business people, thereby earning a succession of nicknames: Mr 5 Percent, Mr 10 Percent, Mr 20 Percent, Mr 30 Percent, and Mr 100 Percent. In total, Bhutto-Zardari accumulated assets worth over $100 million in the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, the United States of America and the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Some estimates place Bhutto-Zardari loot at more than $1.5 billion."

The Swiss institute further writes: "This sum allegedly came from illicit profits through kickbacks in every sphere of government activity, including: rice export deals, the sell-off of state land, purchase of planes for Pakistan International Airlines, sugar mills, oil and gas permits, awarding of broadcast licenses, privatization of state-owned industries and rake-offs from state welfare schemes."

Giving introduction of Asif Zardari and Benazir, this is how the Basel Institute of Governance describes the eminent Pakistani couple: "A consummate politician, Benazir Bhutto was twice appointed Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988-1990 and 1993-1996). On both occasions she was dismissed from office for alleged corruption and misrule or bad governance. Between 1998 and 2007 Bhutto lived in exile from Pakistan in Dubai and London.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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