Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Trial Ploy of Benazir Bhutto’s Grave

February 29, 2012

By Saeed Qureshi

Can anyone, by any stretch of imagination, establish a moral or legal connection between late Benazir Bhutto’s grave and the reopening of the Swiss bank accounts allegedly maintained in her and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari’s name, now the president of Pakistan, speculatively for laundering the ill-gotten wealth?

My head starts spinning while making a forced attempt to endorse the espoused stance of the PPP leadership on this sordid issue, hanging fire for a long time. It is exceedingly onerous for me to agree with their contention that reopening of the cases would be tantamount to the trial of BB’s grave.

It is perhaps for the first time that I have heard the trial of a grave. I cannot exonerate, even if I diligently want to, the holders of these bank accounts with fabulous deposits of black money stated to be as mammoth as $60 million or more.

By attempting to stall a genuine judicial process under the specious plea of terming it as a trial of BB’s grave, the PPP leaders are whipping up a sentimental exploitation of the party’ grass-root supporters and unswerving adherents in order to gain popular support in favor of their frivolous contention.

But by doing so, they are making themselves a laughing stock and objects of ridicule and derision. Besides, their flimsy escapism would be viewed as a crude attempt to scuttle the due process of law. Such elephantine cases of blatant and naked abuse of authority for facilitating shady deals and bilking the country cannot be pushed under the rug or left undecided for all time to come.

There has never been a firm denial of the existence of these dubious offshore accounts that Asif Zardari and her deceased spouse also twice the prime minister of Pakistan, maintained in Swiss banks. The prosecuting Pakistani governments had filed these cases against the couple with claims that the money stashed in the Swiss banks was obtained through clandestine kickbacks commissions in return for sanctioning or facilitating mega contracts. These uncanny deals have been in the limelight all along, and reported and analyzed innumerable times in both Pakistani and international media.

The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) inked on October 5 2005, between now exiled president general Pervez Musharraf and late Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto was laden with various self-serving motives on part of both the signatories. General Musharraf needed a political resuscitation for his dwindling rule while the other party wanted to whitewash their corruption cases and get a baptized re-entry into Pakistan’s political arena. It was indeed an odious marriage of convenience between the two parties.

The NRO granted blanket amnesty inter- alia to politicians, political workers, ambassadors, businessmen and bureaucrats who were involved in bribery scams, terrorism, embezzlements, money laundering, and assassinations between January 1, 1986, and October 12, 1999: the period of civilian government between two martial laws in Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan declared NRO unconstitutional on December 16, 2009.

But with the decline and unceremonious (barring the military guard of honor) departure of Pervez Musharraf from the pinnacle power saddle and the demise of Benazir Bhutto in a terrorist attack, the linchpin of this high profile corruption saga Mr. Zardari, by a stroke of incredible luck, replaced the outgoing president as the elected president of Pakistan.

The cover up of the money laundering cases was primarily to be ensured by the ousted military president. But with the assumption of the presidency by the main suspect, even the remotest chance for reopening of these cases has been quashed. Why would a suspected culprit hang unnecessary yet avoidable stranglehold around his neck?

A total of 19 corruption cases were instituted against Bhutto and her husband during 1990–92 period. Some of the high profile corruption cases include Zardari’s offer of exclusive rights to Dassault, 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. Another was the purchase of 8000 tractors from Poland for launching “Awami tractor scheme” that brought a windfall of $ 2 million in kickbacks.

It is also alleged that a Dubai based company received an exclusive license to import gold into Pakistan for which Asif Zardari received payments of more than $10 million transferred into his Dubai-based Citibank accounts. The owner of the company denied that he had made any payments to Zardari. He also vowed that in this regard, the documents were forged.

After the return to power of Pakistan People’s Party, the Swiss cases were withdrawn by the government in August 2008. Correspondingly, the Swiss judicial authorities had closed the money-laundering cases against Asif Ali Zardari and released $60 million frozen in Swiss accounts. According to certain estimates the amount that was allegedly received by the couple by way of bribe and commission and misappropriation national exchequer during the PPP’s two stints in power could be as high as $ 1.5 billion.

The supreme court of Pakistan decreed that the letter earlier written to the Swiss banking authorities for closing the money laundering cases should be withdrawn. The purpose of the Supreme Court was to find out through fresh proceedings, if the allegations were false or factual.

Since prime minister of Pakistan Yusuf Raza Gilani has dithered to execute the Supreme Court orders, he has been arraigned for contempt of court eclipsing his future and completing tenure of office as the head of the government. It is one of the worst crises for its survival that the incumbent government of PPP is trapped in.

As such the lingering cases of Swiss bank accounts of president Asif ali Zardari, have assumed two-fold dimensions: one to decide about the veracity or otherwise of the stupendous allegations and the other that of contempt of court against the prime minister for not complying with the supreme court’s orders.

In a recent interview with the noted GEO TV anchor Hamid Mir, president Zardari described the Swiss cases as part of history and expressed a firm refusal of approaching the Swiss banking or legal authorities to reopen the closed cases.

He argued that his party does not want such a letter to be written to the Swiss banks since it would be tantamount to a trial of the grave of the martyred PPP’s chairperson. Nevertheless, he opined that the next government that would be in place in another 15 months or so could reopen these cases by writing such a letter.

Such a deviant stand by the president and his party echelons, defies the commonsense and undermines a legal process that has been geared to determine if such a huge money making scam through foul means, had actually happened or not. The verdict in favor of president Zardari would revive and re-establish his tattered image of a corrupt person.

Instead of terming it as a trial of Benazir Bhutto’s grave, the reopening of the controversial cases should be rather welcomed by Mr. Zardari and his party. BB’s soul too would rest in eternal peace if her spouse gets himself and her exculpated by the court. Also thereafter Mr. Zardari would be like a newborn child and be able to lead an aspersion-free life.

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