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Bhutto to appeal Swiss sentence

Benazir Bhutto has always denied charges of corruption and money laundering Keystone Archive

The former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and her husband are to appeal against a Swiss magistrate's decision sentencing them for money laundering.

This content was published on August 6, 2003 - 14:22

The move comes one day after investigating magistrate Daniel Devaud gave the couple a six-month suspended jail sentence.

Bhutto’s Swiss lawyer, Dominique Poncet, said the appeal, due to be lodged on August 14, would aim to suspend the conviction and bring the matter to court.

Devaud’s sentence was related to accusations that the couple received multi-million dollar kickbacks in exchange for handing out a contract to a Swiss firm, during Bhutto’s second term in office from 1993-1996.

The case, opened in 1998, involved the Geneva-based Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS), the world’s biggest verification, testing and certification services group.

The money was allegedly deposited in Swiss banks, and accounts belonging to the Bhuttos were frozen following an official Pakistani request in 1997. The Geneva authorities launched their own investigation into money laundering a year later.

Devaud later said there was around $10 million (SFr13.5 million) involved, equivalent to six per cent of the SGS contract.

Legal assistance

If Devaud’s verdict were to be upheld on appeal, the money would likely be transferred to Pakistan. Bern and Islamabad already have a legal assistance agreement under which they exchange information relating to the case.

Devaud's ruling came after five years of investigations and shortly before he stepped down from his post as a magistrate in Geneva.

Bhutto’s Swiss lawyer, Dominique Poncet, described Devaud's decision to sentence the couple as “rubbish”.

“He can only [hand down a sentence] if the facts are proven, which is not at all the case,” he told swissinfo.

But according to Jacques Python, a Swiss lawyer working for the Pakistani government, a Geneva investigating judge has discretionary powers allowing him to hand down sentences of up to six months.

“By issuing the sentences, Daniel Devaud remained within his rights as permitted under the Geneva code of civil procedure,” he told swissinfo.

Denied

Python said the decision was not surprising, since the Bhuttos had never agreed to answer any questions from the Geneva authorities, and had never formally denied the charges being investigated by the magistrate.

“The documented evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that the money paid as a commission by SGS and a subsidiary was received by Mrs Bhutto and her family,” he said.

Bhutto’s lawyer, Poncet, said his clients would appeal the decision and let the canton Geneva prosecutor decide if the case should go to court.

The lawyer added that Bhutto was prepared to face a court and defend herself against the charge, which she had not been able to do until now.

The former prime minister has been living in exile in London and the Middle East, and refuses to return to Pakistan for fear of arrest. Her husband has been languishing in a Pakistani prison since 1996.

swissinfo, Scott Capper and Ramsey Zarifeh

In brief

Former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and her husband are to appeal a Swiss convcition for money laundering.

Geneva investigationg magistrate, Daniel Devaud, sentenced them within his discretionary powers to a six-month suspended prison sentence.

The money allegedly came from multi-million dollar kickbacks paid into Swiss bank accounts by the Geneva-based testing and verification group, SGS, in exchange for lucrative Pakistani inspection contracts.

The Bhuttos deny the charges.

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