Citing the examples of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Nigerian President Sani Abacha, Pakistan's Supreme Court suggested Tuesday that President Asif Ali Zardari's ill-gotten money stashed in Switzerland and elsewhere should be brought back to Pakistan.
This came in the detailed judgment of the apex court about the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which was declared as null and void last month. The controversial law granting amnesty to senior politicians, accused of serious corruption charges, was introduced by former President General Pervez Musharraf.
The Supreme Court has ordered the government to reopen the money laundering case against President Zardari in Switzerland, which was withdrawn under the NRO. Last month, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed a fresh report on Swiss cases which revealed that frozen Swiss accounts contained $60 million - a sum that has been released.
The NAB list showed President Asif Ali Zardari possessing assets worth $1.5 billion (Rs 120 billion) abroad $300 million (Rs 24.14 billion) in the country. President Zardari's assets in foreign countries include houses and bank accounts in Spain, France, the US and Britain. At least his assets worth Rs 22 billion were mentioned as beyond means and the cases in this regard were withdrawn by the Accountability Court on March 5, 2008, under the controversial NRO.
The court said there are so many other countries on whose demand the wealth was reverted back to those states. In this context, the judgment referred to the cases of Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, president of the Philippines (from 1969-1986), and Sani Abacha, head of the state of Nigeria (from 1993-1998), who were found involved in corruption and corrupt practices and proceedings against them were initiated for the return of their assets from abroad. These succeeded, leading to the return of million of dollars to their countries.
Citing the case of President Marcos the court said:
"In 1986, on the basis of documents lost by him in the presidential palace, assets worth $356 million were discovered in his name in Swiss Banks. The said assets were frozen on the request filed through Swiss lawyers in February 1986...
"On Feb 28, 1986, the Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) formed under the Presidential Order No 1 of 1986 to recover Marcos-linked assets in the Philippines and abroad...
"Afterwards the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland (via a) partial decision dated Aug 18, 2006, froze the assets of GEI Inc (owned by Marcos/associates) and set a deadline of Dec 31, 2006, for filing or decision of the court of first instance about the seizure of said assets, which was provided on Dec 28, 2006. The beneficiaries/associates of Marcos filed appeals which were dismissed vide order dated June 1, 2007"
On account of above proceedings against Marcos, $658 million, the money/funds belonging to the Philippine government were returned by the Swiss courts.
Similarly, the Supreme Court said, there is another case, from a Nigerian jurisdiction, wherein the Head of the State, Sani Abacha, was found involved in corruption and corrupt practices and proceedings, against him, were initiated for return of his assets from Switzerland to Nigeria and from 1999 to 2009, approximately US$ 1.2 billion, had been returned to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The verdict pointed out that Pakistan is also signatory to the United Nation's Convention Against Corruption, 2005 and had ratified it on 31st August, 2007, regarding international cooperation in criminal matters. Under Articles 44 to 50 the State Parties shall consider assisting each other in investigation or proceedings in civil and administrative matters, relating to corruption.
The Supreme Court verdict stated the NRO is against the interests of the country and withdrawing cases from Swiss courts was unconstitutional. "The object of this law for all intents and purposes does not seem to be 'reconciliation' but to pave way and facilitate to those persons charged with corruption, plunders of national wealth and fraud, to come back, seize and occupy the echelons of power again. Its aim seems to legalize corruption and the crimes committed by those in power in the past."
Not surprisingly, cases against 8,041 people, including 32 prominent politicians were dropped under the controversial NRO introduced by ex-President Pervez Musharraf to allow Mr Zardari's late wife, Benazir Bhutto, to return to the country and stand for office. Under US-brokered deal, she returned to Pakistan from abroad after the NRO was signed into law, but was assassinated soon after. Mr. Zardari became president in 2008, thanks to strong US political and financial support.
Zardari repaid this support by facilitating the US war in Afghanistan, and allowed the Pentagon to keep using Pakistan's bases and military personnel, without which the war in Afghanistan could not be prosecuted. Washington promised Pakistan's corrupt ruling elite at least $7.5 billion over the next five years.
Pakistan Supreme Court's verdict against the controversial NRO is virtually a judgment against the rampant corruption in the country which has been ranked as 42nd most corrupt country by the Transparency International. The Court had directed the concerned courts to summon the persons and resume cases against those who benefitted from the NRO.