Benazir, Asif may escape trial in Switzerland

November 14th, 2007 - 2:01 am ICT by admin  
A National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by the Pakistan Government last week grants across-the-board immunity for politicians who were active between 1988 and 1999.

Daniel Zappelli, the general prosecutor of Geneva, is in a quandary. Should the politician and her husband stand trial now that Bhutto has been granted an amnesty by her own country, the Swissinfo said.

Pakistan’s Law Minister, Zahid Hamid, said in Islamabad last week that five corruption cases were still pending against Bhutto abroad, while six cases were pending against her husband Asif Zardari.

Hamid added that corruption cases against the couple pending in foreign courts would be dropped.

“Any case against any holder of the public office registered before October 1999 and still pending with the courts would be withdrawn under the ordinance,” Hamid explained.

However, Dominique Henchoz, the lawyer representing the Pakistan Government in Geneva, said that it is still not clear whether legal action would be stopped.

“We’ll have to wait to examine the exact wording used in the decree, because surely to speak of an amnesty implies that there has been an act of corruption,” he added.

An official at the Pakistani embassy in Berne declined to comment on the case when contacted by Swissinfo, saying that it was being handled directly from Islamabad.

Vincent Fournier, one of the three judges, has confirmed that his office is about to pass on the case to the prosecutor.

“It is surprising to note that for 10 years Pakistan has constantly pushed us to see that justice is done. And now, in the light of a change of political allegiance, Bhutto benefits from an amnesty,” Fournier pointed out.

The couple has been accused of receiving multimillion-dollar kickbacks in exchange for handing out a contract to a Swiss firm during Bhutto’s second term in office between 1993 and 1996.

A Geneva investigating judge who handed down a six-month suspended sentence first convicted the couple of simple money laundering in 2003. The Bhuttos appealed against the magistrate’s decision but were later accused of more serious money laundering offences.

Most observers agree the amnesty signed by Musharraf was part of pre-election horse-trading. It paves the way for a power-sharing deal between the two politicians, which could see long-exiled Bhutto move back into the Prime Minister’s job next year. (ANI)

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