FROM PRISON TO PRESIDENT HOUSE

Posted: September 7, 2008 in Political
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Asif Ali Zardari (born 22 July 1955) is the President-elect of Pakistan and the Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Zardari is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who twice served as Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Member of National Assembly

Asif served as a member of the National Assembly, and he was Minister of the Environment during his wife’s second term as Prime Minister (1993–1996). Initially he was interested in the Finance Ministry, but Bhutto opted to put him in a non-revenue generating department instead. During his time as Environment Minister, he claimed in a televised news conference on STN that every school in Pakistan had an Environment & Forestry department which motivated every student to plant one tree.

He also served as a Senator until the October 1999 coup by General Pervez Musharraf, in which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted and the Senate and assemblies were dissolved.

Criminal charges and allegations

In 1990, Zardari was arrested on charges of blackmail, based on allegations that he attached a bomb to a Pakistani businessman, Murtaza Bukhari, and forced him to withdraw money from his bank account.

He was kept in custody from 1997 to 2004 on charges ranging from corruption to murder. He was granted bail and released in November 2004 when a judge released Zardari under great pressure. However, he was re-arrested on 21 December 2004 after his failure to attend a hearing in a murder trial in Karachi.

Former leader of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, wrote that he found Zardari “a likable rogue” who tried to impress with chatter about his real estate and export deals.

Zardari’s nickname “Mr. 10 Percent” stems from accusations that he took a cut from government contracts while his wife Benazir Bhutto was in office.

Corruption

A 1998 New York Times investigative report claimed that Pakistani investigators had documents that uncover a network of bank accounts, all linked to the family’s lawyer in Switzerland, with Asif Zardari as the principal shareholder. According to the article, documents released by the French authorities indicated that Zardari offered exclusive rights to D assault, a French aircraft manufacturer, to replace the air force’s fighter jets in exchange for a 5% commission to be paid to a Swiss corporation controlled by Zardari. The article also said a Dubai company received an exclusive license to import gold into Pakistan for which Asif Zardari received payments of more than $10 million into his Dubai-based Citibank accounts. The owner of the company denied that he had made payments to Zardari and claims the documents were forged.

Bhutto maintained that the charges leveled against her and her husband were purely political. An Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) report supports Bhutto’s claim. It presents information suggesting that Benazir Bhutto was ousted from power in 1990 as a result of a witch hunt approved by then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The AGP report says Khan illegally paid legal advisers 28 million rupees to file 19 corruption cases against Bhutto and her husband in 1990-92.

The prosecutors had alleged that their Swiss bank accounts contained £740 million.Zardari also bought a neo-Tudor mansion and estate worth over £4 million in Surrey, England, UK.The Pakistani investigations have tied other overseas properties to Zardari’s family. These include a $2.5 million manor in Normandy owned by Zardari’s parents, who had modest assets at the time of his marriage.Bhutto denied holding substantive overseas assets.

Zardari and his wife Benazir denied corruption allegations ever since they were first levelled in 1990.In August 2004, Zardari admitted owning the £6.35m estate in Surrey, England, including a 20-room mansion and two farms on 365 acres, or 1.5 km², of land which the Pakistani authorities had alleged was bought with the proceeds of corruption. He was given the nick name “Mr ten-percent” because that was his cut in every corrupt deal which was happening in Pakistan at the time.

French, Polish, Spanish, and Swiss documents have fueled the charges of corruption against Bhutto and her husband. They faced a number of legal proceedings, including a charge of laundering money through Swiss banks.Asif Ali Zardari spent several years in prison on corruption charges.After being released on bail in 2004, Zardari suggested that his time in prison involved torture; human rights groups have supported his claim that his rights were violated.

Switzerland

On 23 July 1998, the Swiss Government handed over documents to the government of Pakistan which relate to corruption allegations against Benazir Bhutto and her husband. The documents included a formal charge of money laundering by Swiss authorities against Zardari. The Pakistani government had been conducting a wide-ranging inquiry to account for more than $13.7 million frozen by Swiss authorities in 1997 that was allegedly stashed in banks by Bhutto and her husband. The Pakistani government recently filed criminal charges against Bhutto in an effort to track down an estimated $1.5 billion she and her husband are alleged to have received in a variety of criminal enterprises. The documents suggest that the money Zardari was alleged to have laundered was accessible to Benazir Bhutto and had been used to buy a diamond necklace for over $175,000. The PPP has responded by flatly denying the charges, suggesting that Swiss authorities have been misled by false evidence provided by the Government of Pakistan.

On 6 August 2003, Swiss magistrates found Bhutto and her husband guilty of money laundering.[19] They were given six-month suspended jail terms, fined $50,000 each and were ordered to pay $11 million to the Pakistani government. The six-year trial concluded that Bhutto and Zardari deposited in Swiss accounts $10 million given to them by a Swiss company in exchange for a contract in Pakistan. The couple said they would appeal. The Pakistani investigators say Zardari opened a Citibank account in Geneva in 1995 through which they say he passed some $40 million of the $100 million he received in payoffs from foreign companies doing business in Pakistan.[20] In October 2007, Daniel Zappelli, chief prosecutor of the canton of Geneva, said he received the conclusions of a money laundering investigation against former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on 29 October, but it was unclear whether there would be any further legal action against her in Switzerland.

The money was allegedly stashed in Swiss banks. The public proceedings were required to be dropped against Bhutto due to her death; but the proceedings were still continued against Zardari until end of August 2008. In the end of August, however, all of the cases against him in Swiss courts were closed, leaving him with all 60 million dollars (41 million Euros) restored, which were frozen due to alleged money-laundering case against him.

Zardari’s challenge to his critics

On the news of Chairman Zardari’s receipt of $60 million, he quickly denied the allegation. He even declared that he would give half of all the money ($30 million) to any person who proved him the recipient.

Poland

The Polish Government has given Pakistan 500 pages of documentation relating to corruption allegations against Benazir Bhutto and her husband. These charges are in regard to the purchase of 8,000 tractors in a 1997 deal. According to Pakistani officials, the Polish papers contain details of illegal commissions paid by the tractor company in return for agreeing to their contract.It was alleged that the arrangement “skimmed” 103 million rupees ($2 million) in kickbacks. “The documentary evidence received from Poland confirms the scheme of kickbacks laid out by Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto in the name of (the) launching of Awami tractor scheme”, APP said. Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari allegedly received a 7.15% commission on the purchase through their front men, Jens Schlegelmilch and Didier Plantin of Dargal SA, who received about $1.969 million for supplying 5,900 Ursus tractors.

France

Potentially the most lucrative deal alleged in the documents involved the effort by Dassault Aviation, a French military contractor. French authorities indicated in 1998 that Bhutto’s husband, Zardari, offered exclusive rights to Dassault to replace the air force’s fighter jets in exchange for a five percent commission to be paid to a corporation in Switzerland controlled by Zardari.

At the time, French corruption laws forbade bribery of French officials but permitted payoffs to foreign officials, and even made the payoffs tax-deductible in France. However, France changed this law in 2000.

Helicopter scandal

In 1998-1999, an enquiry was conducted by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament to investigate the matter regarding the purchase of the helicopters. The case involves defrauding substantive sum of $2.168 million and $1.1 million public money. The record shows that the case was not pursued properly nor diligently. FIR No 1 of 1998 was registered with Federal Investigation Agency, State Bank Circle Rawalpindi on the complaint of the Cabinet Division. A thorough investigation was conducted by the committee headed by Chaudhry Muhammad Barjees Tahir and two other members, namely Faridullah Jamali and Jamshaid Ali Shah. During this investigation the committee Chair Barjees Tahir summoned both the former President Farooq Leghari and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto along with others, and they were investigated. The case received extensive media coverage both inside and outside Pakistan. The recommendations of the committee, obtained from the file, are as under:

6.1: FIR may be lodged against (1) Malik Allah Yar Khan of Kalabagh (2) Zia Pervez Hussain (3) Dr M.A. Khan and criminal proceedings be instituted against them defrauding the government.

6.2: The amount of $2.168 million be recovered from Malik Allah Yar Khan, Zia Pervez Hussain and Dr M.A. Khan by attaching their properties etc in Pakistan or abroad for this purpose. FIA may be directed to take steps to recover this money through Interpol, if necessary. Any banker or foreign national involved in this fraud may also be taken to task by the Federal Investigation Agency.

6.3: As Benazir Bhutto, she is clearly responsible for this loss to exchequer as major decisions in respect of this contract were taken with her approval or direction and passed on to the Cabinet Division through former PS PM (Ahmad Sadiq). FIR may be registered against her for causing loss to state by misuse of her authority as PM, and criminal proceedings be initiated.

6.4: Farooq Leghari knows that his name has visibly come up in this case. He has tried to plead innocent. It is unimaginable that those operating in this scandal could have easy access to the top bureaucrats like Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and even to the Prime Minister herself without the backing and active support of the President. FIR against him must also be registered and criminal proceedings initiated.

6.5: As for the senior civil servants involved in the case, Ahmad Sadiq former PS PM, Humayun Faiz Rasul and Sahibzada Imtiaz former Cabinet Secretary, no action can be taken against them at this stage as they already stand retired/superannuated.

The case was further referred to the National Accountability Bureau in 2000-02 but no action was taken.

Western Asia

In the largest single payment investigators have uncovered, a gold bullion dealer in Western Asia was alleged to have deposited at least $10 million into one of Zardari’s accounts after the Bhutto government gave him a monopoly on gold imports that sustained Pakistan’s jewellery industry. The money was allegedly deposited into Zardari’s Citibank account in Dubai. Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, stretching from Karachi to the border with Iran, has long been a gold smugglers’ haven. Until the beginning of Bhutto’s second term, the trade, running into hundreds of millions of dollars a year, was unregulated, with slivers of gold called biscuits, and larger weights in bullion, carried on planes and boats that travel between the Persian Gulf and the largely unguarded Pakistani coast.

Shortly after Bhutto returned as Prime Minister in 1993, a Pakistani bullion trader in Dubai, Abdul Razzak Yaqoob, proposed a deal: in return for the exclusive right to import gold, Razzak would help the government regularise the trade. In November 1994, Pakistan’s Commerce Ministry wrote to Razzak informing him that he had been granted a licence that made him, for at least the next two years, Pakistan’s sole authorised gold importer. In an interview in his office in Dubai, Razzak acknowledged that he had used the licence to import more than $500 million in gold into Pakistan, and that he had travelled to Islamabad several times to meet with Bhutto and Zardari. But he denied that there had been any corruption or secret deals. “I have not paid a single cent to Zardari,” he said. Razzak claims that someone in Pakistan who wished to destroy his reputation had contrived to have his company wrongly identified as the depositor. “Somebody in the bank has cooperated with my enemies to make false documents,” he said.

Fatima Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s niece, and others have publicly accused Bhutto of complicity in the killing of her brother Murtaza Bhutto in 1996 by uniformed police officers while she was Prime Minister.

Mental illness

The British newspaper Daily Telegraph has revealed on 26 August 2008 issue that Asif Ali Zardari is suffering from mental illnesses.

Mr Zardari, co-chair of the Pakistan People’s Party, was diagnosed with a range of psychiatric illnesses, including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The illnesses were said to be linked to the fact that he has spent 11 of the past 20 years in Pakistani prisons fighting charges of corruption. He claims to have been tortured during his incarceration.

In March 2007, New York psychiatrist Philip Saltiel found that Mr Zardari’s time in detention left him with severe “emotional instability”, memory loss and concentration problems, according to court documents seen by the Financial Times.

Co-chairman of the PPP (president of Pakistan)

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007, shortly after returning to Pakistan from exile. On 30 December 2007, Asif Ali Zardari became the co-chairman of the PPP, along with his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is currently studying at Oxford. Bilawal is intended to fully assume the post when he completes his education.

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Zardari reaffirmed his disinterest in the prime ministership. Chairman Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, along with some smaller political parties, joined forces in an electoral coalition that won a heavy majority in the elections and unseated Musharraf’s ruling PML-Q. After the election, he called for a government of national unity, and divided cabinet portfolios among coalition partners on proportionate basis. Asif Ali Zardari and former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on 21 February 2008 that their parties would work together in the national parliament after scoring big wins in the election. On 5 March 2008, Mr Zardari was cleared of five corruption charges, including corruption and illegal use of property under NRO, the National Reconciliation Ordinance He had another trial on the remaining charges on 14 April 2008, when he was cleared under the same NRO. On 19 April 2008, Zardari announced in a press conference in London that he and his sister, Faryal Talpur, would participate in the by-elections taking place on 3 June and that, if necessary, he would contest to become the country’s next Prime Minister, even though his party voted by a 2/3 majority to announce that Yousaf Raza Gillani would be the PM for a five year term.

Candidate for the presidency following Musharraf’s resignation

Zardari, in alliance with Nawaz Sharif, was preparing to impeach president Pervez Musharraf, and a charge-sheet and draft of impeachment had already been prepared, when Musharraf, in accordance with his advisors, resigned from the presidency on 18 August 2008. Chairman Zardari has been confirmed by the Central Executive Committee of the PPP as well as endorsed by the rival ethnic party MQM as candidate for the post of President of Pakistan.There is nevertheless strong disagreement among the current coalition partners, and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party is threatening to leave the coalition as a result. According to the Constitution, elections must be held within 30 days of the previous president stepping down. The electoral college is composed of the Senate, the National Assembly, and the four provincial assemblies.

Pakistan’s Election Commission on 22 August announced that Presidential elections will be held on 6 September, and the nomination papers can be filed from 26 August. Many analysts have predicted that if Zardari is elected President, Pakistan’s political, economical and financial position will suffer heavily.[citation needed]

It has been reported by the New York Times that Zalmay Khalilzad, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, had been unofficially advising Asif Ali Zardari.Khalilzad, an Afghan native, is rumored to be flirting with the possibility of returning home to challenge President Hamid Karzai when his term expires next year. Should Khalilzad return home, a good working relationship with Islamabad would be critical.

Zardari as President of Pakistan

Zardari was elected president of Pakistan, as Chief election commissioner Qazi Mohammad Farooq announced that “Asif Ali Zardari secured 281 votes out of the 426 valid votes polled in the parliament,” In Sindh, Zardari had 62 of the 65 electoral votes while his two main opponents got zero votes; in North West Frontier Province Zardari got 56 votes against 5 by Siddiqui and one by Hussain; in Balochistan, 59 votes while Siddiqui and Hussain got 2 each.BBC reported that Zardari “won 481 votes, far more than the 352 votes that would have guaranteed him victory.”New York Times said that Zardari would be sworn in “as soon as Saturday night or as late as Monday or Tuesday, diplomats and officials said.”

Zardari, leader of Pakistan People’s Party, was challenged by Justice (Retired) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a former judge nominated by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N), and Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who was nominated by Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) (PML-Q), that backed Musharraf. According to the Constitution of 1973 presently in vogue (but declared for major amendments by President-Elect Zardari) the President of Pakistan, who must be a Muslim and a male, is elected by an electoral college composed of members of the two houses of parliament – the 342 seat lower house National Assembly and the 100 member upper house Senate, as well as members of the four provincial assemblies – Sindh, Punjab, North West Frontier and Balochistan. The assemblies have total of 1170 seats, but the number of electoral college votes is 702 since provincial assembly votes are counted on a proportional basis. The new president, who obtains the largest number of votes, will serve for five years as Pakistan’s 11th president since 1956, when the country became an Islamic Republic, excluding acting presidents and CMLAs [Chief Martial Law Administrators] during times of military rule. Voting was in progress at the Parliament House, while the Senate members finished casting their votes,

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