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Pakistan asks Swiss to revive Zardari probe

Asif Ali Zardari could face an investigation in Switzerland again

(AFP)

The Pakistani government says it has asked the Swiss authorities to reopen a graft case against its president, Asif Ali Zardari, after an amnesty protecting him from prosecution was struck down.

The move follows a Pakistani Supreme Court threat on Tuesday to imprison the head of the country’s top anti-corruption agency unless the body moved to reopen cases against Zardari and a slew of other politicians, bureaucrats and party workers.

Geneva’s public prosecutor, Daniel Zappelli, on Wednesday said he had received no request from Pakistani officials. And a spokesman for the Federal Justice Office told swissinfo.ch earlier in the day it had not received the request, which Pakistan says it sent in the form of a letter.

The Pakistani Supreme Court overturned a 2007 amnesty that allowed Zardari and his wife, the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, return from exile as part of a power-sharing deal allowing Bhutto to contest elections.

The bad news for Zardari raises the prospect of an investigation and conviction while still in office, and of continued political instability. The president’s supporters say the court’s lead judge, Asif Ali Zardari, is hostile to his rule.

Zardari has persistently insisted he is innocent and that he has immunity because he is president. He and Bhutto were found guilty in absentia by a Geneva court in 2003 for laundering millions of francs.

The two were each sentenced to six months in prison and fined but both punishments were automatically suspended when they appealed.

Corruption

Canton Geneva closed the 11-year-old case in 2008 after Pakistani authorities asked them to.

“In Pakistan they decided no crime had been committed,” said Zappelli.

The Geneva prosecutor said he can't reopen the case against Zardari, because he enjoys "absolute immunity" as a head of state.

"We could go further only if the competent authorities in Pakistan decide to lift the immunity of the head of state, which I do not know whether it is possible according to their constitution," Zappelli told the Associated Press news agency. "If not, we can't. Absolutely not. Period."

Zardari and Bhutto 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.

Geneva investigating judges found the two received $12 million (SFr12.71 million) from companies registered in the Virgin Islands and Panama.

Zardari has spent more than a decade, including the year before he assumed office, in jail on various charges but he has never been convicted.

He then received a controversial amnesty as part of a power-sharing deal allowing Bhutto to return from exile and contest elections.

Bhutto was killed in a December 2007 gun and suicide bomb attack, and Zardari was elected president in 2008. He took the office after his party forced military ruler Pervez Musharraf to resign.

He has struggled to make much of a dent in the country's myriad problems, but his government has been praised of late in the West for battling against the Taliban in the northwest.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

History

1994: SGS and Cotecna, another inspection firm, sign contracts with Pakistan.

1997: Pakistan asks Switzerland for legal assistance.

1998: Bhutto and her husband charged in Pakistan and Switzerland.

1999: The couple are sentenced to five years prison by a Lahore tribunal.

2001: The Pakistan supreme court rejects the judgement.

2004: The couple is charged with advanced money laundering.

2007: Benazir Bhutto benefits from a corruption amnesty in Pakistan.

2009: Pakistan's top court strikes down the amnesty for Zardari in December.

2010: Pakistan's anti-corruption body asks Switzerland to re-open the case.

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