Zardari still facing Swiss probe, says Newsweek

Posted: August 22, 2008 in Political
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Zardari still facing Swiss probe, says Newsweek

By Masood Haider

NEW YORK, Aug 21: Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party, continues to remain under criminal investigation in Switzerland over allegations that he received kickbacks from two Swiss-based companies, the Newsweek reported on its website on Thursday, quoting a Swiss judge and two Swiss lawyers close to the case.

According to the report, Swiss legal sources, who requested anonymity, said that Mr Zardari, who always claimed that corruption allegations against him were politically motivated, might be using his growing political clout in Islamabad to pressurise Swiss authorities to curtail, or even close, their long-running investigation into his affairs.

The magazine says that Mr Zardari, through a spokeswoman, maintains that the probe is already closed. “Mr Zardari feels that you have been misinformed and that the case that you are referring to is closed,” wrote Farah Ispahani, in response to an email from Newsweek. “Please be careful about reporting something that may have been planted.”

It may be pointed out that the Swiss investigations were opened years ago, during Mr Nawaz Sharif’s tenure as prime minister. His government requested official legal assistance from Switzerland, where Pakistani authorities suspected that the couple (Mr Zardari and Benazir Bhutto) had stashed proceeds from alleged corrupt activities. The Pakistani government hired lawyers in Switzerland to gather evidence against Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari and help Swiss investigators with their inquiries.

US officials have been quoted as saying that they already view Mr Zardari as one of the most important Pakistani officials the US deals with on sensitive issues such as the hunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in volatile tribal areas along the country’s border with Afghanistan.

However, US officials remain wary of Mr Zardari because of corruption allegations that have swirled around him for years. Ms Bhutto served two terms as prime minister and her spouse served a stint as investment minister.

In 2003, these investigations resulted in a series of court orders against them and one of their Swiss lawyers, Jens Schlegelmilch. The orders were issued by Judge Daniel Devaud, an investigating magistrate in Geneva who has handled many high-profile investigations into the alleged laundering of corrupt payments through Switzerland by foreign politicians.

Judge Devaud’s orders found Ms Bhutto, Mr Zardari and Mr Schlegelmilch guilty of minor money-laundering offences under Switzerland’s penal code.

Judge Devaud confirmed to the magazine that the prosecutor’s office was still investigating “aggravated” money-laundering offences.

Likewise, Jacques Python, a Geneva lawyer hired by Pakistan to work with Swiss authorities on the corruption case, said he had every reason to believe that the Geneva prosecutor’s investigation was still open. And Alec Reymond, a lawyer who had represented Ms Bhutto in connection with the Swiss investigation, also says the case is still open.

Two other Swiss legal sources close to the case, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said they believed the Geneva prosecutor could continue to pursue the case, given that the investigation did turn up evidence, which was not exclusively supplied by Pakistan, of violation of Swiss money-laundering laws.

Ultimately, said one of the sources, Swiss prosecutors had three possible courses of action: close the case entirely, prosecute it by bringing it into a superior court or arrange the Swiss version of a plea bargain, in which money seized by Swiss authorities during the investigation probably would be confiscated or handed over to charity, but charges would be settled without any prison sentences.


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