Pakistan presses Swiss court case against Zardari

Lawyers representing Pakistan urged a Swiss court on Wednesday to prosecute the widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, accused of stashing 60 million Swiss francs ($55 million) in the Alpine country.

Pakistan presses Swiss court case against Zardari

For more than 10 years, Geneva judicial authorities have been investigating allegations that Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari took kickbacks from Swiss cargo inspection companies and hid the proceeds in Swiss bank accounts.

Zardari became leader of Bhutto's Pakistan's People's Party after her death on Dec. 27. On Wednesday he began stitching together a coalition that could topple President Pervez Musharraf after the PPP won most seats in elections this week.

At a hearing, Swiss lawyers for Pakistan argued that money-laundering charges against Zardari should proceed in Geneva in spite of an amnesty signed by Musharraf last year erasing graft charges against the couple.

Pakistan's Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of that amnesty. Swiss lawyers representing the state said the decision was expected in "a few weeks".

"This dossier is a bomb for Zardari," Pakistan's Swiss lawyer Dominique Henchoz told the Geneva court.

"His name appears on each page as the beneficial owner of offshore companies. Some 60 million Swiss francs have been frozen (in Geneva accounts)," she said.

Bhutto and Zardari always denied the charges.

The three-judge court in Geneva, presided over by judge Valerie Laemmel-Julliard, announced at the end of the 90-minute hearing that it would rule soon on whether to send the case to the prosecutor for trial, or back to a magistrate for more work.

Jacques Python, the senior lawyer for Pakistan, which is a civil party in the case, said: "The facts which Mr. Zardari stands accused of, taking commissions paid into accounts, are duly documented. It is urgent to act. The statute of limitations on some of the charges expires in July 2009."

"All political"

Money laundering allegations would be harder to prove under Swiss law if the amnesty is upheld and corruption charges are dropped in Pakistan, legal experts say. A Swiss conviction for aggravated money laundering can mean up to five years in prison.

Saverio Lembo, Zardari's lawyer in Geneva, called for the case to be suspended pending the ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court, noting that Musharraf's amnesty covered money-laundering cases pending in Switzerland as well as in Britain.

"The case (in Pakistan) is going nowhere. There has been no ruling in 10 years. Why? The answer is simple -- because this is all political," Lembo told the court.

Chief prosecutor Daniel Zappelli agreed Geneva authorities should await the Pakistani Supreme Court ruling.

"It's important to know whether or not the state of Pakistan believes its interests have been damaged. I await the position of Pakistan and to know whether it intends to pursue the criminal acts which it accuses Mr. Zardari of," Zappelli said.

The court is also to rule on a request by Zardari's lawyer for the investigating magistrate Vincent Fournier to hear more witnesses.

Bhutto and Zardari were convicted by a Geneva court in 2003 of laundering funds worth $13 million linked to alleged kickbacks. But that verdict was thrown out on appeal, sparking a fresh investigation by Fournier, wrapped up last October.

Swiss charges against Bhutto ended with her death.

Zardari, 51, was a minister in one of Bhutto's governments. He spent 11 years in jail on graft and other charges, none of which were proved.

Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Şubat 2008, 17:54
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