Swiss decline to reopen Zardari graft case
President Asif Ali Zardari, left, raises the hand of his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at the launch of Bilawal's political career in December (Keystone)
The Swiss authorities have refused to reopen the investigation into Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari involving alleged money laundering in the 1990s, a senior Pakistani justice ministry official revealed on Sunday.
As part of a long-running legal battle over Zardari’s immunity from prosecution, Pakistan’s supreme court forced the Islamabad government to write to the Swiss authorities to ask them to reevaluate Zardari’s file last October.
According to Yasmin Abbasey of Pakistan’s justice ministry, the Swiss responded “with a letter indicating that the [Pakistani] president enjoyed immunity”. The Swiss response backs up the position of Pakistan’s government which has insisted on Zardari’s immunity throughout the legal-political saga.
Pakistan’s highest court, engaged in a power struggle with the government, has been pushing since December 2009 for the green light to ask Switzerland to reopen the old cases in which Zardari and his now deceased wife Benazir Bhutto, were charged with concealing $12 million received in kickbacks during Bhutto’ second term in office as prime minister from 1993 to 1996.
The announcement comes in the run up to general elections in Pakistan in May. Although Zardari has consistently maintained his innocence, he and Bhutto were found guilty in absentia by a Geneva court in 2003 of laundering millions of francs.
The two had been accused of receiving multi-million dollar bribes in exchange for handing a contract to Geneva-based certification group Société Générale de Surveillance during Bhutto’s second term in office, which lasted from 1993 to 1996.
They were each sentenced to six months in prison and fined but both punishments were automatically suspended when they appealed.
Canton Geneva closed the 11-year-old case in 2008 at the request of the Pakistani authorities.