Swiss govt calls Zardari case time-barred

19 Jun 2013


President Asif Ali Zardari.—File Photo.
President Asif Ali Zardari.—File Photo.

ISLAMABAD: The PML-N government opened on Tuesday a letter received from the Swiss government which declared President Asif Ali Zardari a ‘clean’ man in a $60 million money-laundering case closed by a Swiss court after lapse of a specific period.

In February this year, the Swiss government told the PPP-led government about the letter and conveyed its contents, but it was officially opened on Tuesday by Law Minister Zahid Hamid.

Mr Hamid told a TV channel that he had read the letter and would soon make it public.

The minister did not say anything about the PML-N government’s future line of action on the case, which is being tried by local courts also, and said: “Pakistan’s embassy in Switzerland has been asked to send some relevant documents about the case.”

But the outgoing PPP government believed that there was no case pending against Mr Zardari in any court in the country.

Now all eyes are on the PML-N to see what strategy it will chalk out about the case because it had been demanding that the ‘plundered’ wealth must be brought back to the country.

President Zardari and Benazir Bhutto were accused of purchasing Surrey Palace through ‘illegal’ money. During proceedings of the case, the Swiss authorities liquidated the property because Mr Zardari and Ms Bhutto did not own it and the money obtained through its sale was deposited in a Swiss bank, which was believed to have been drawn by the owners of the palace.

Former law minister Farooq H. Naek, on a directive of the Supreme Court, had written a letter to the Swiss government in December last year for reopening the case and the Swiss authorities replied on Feb 9.

Sources in the law ministry said that according to the letter, the case was timed-barred and after expiry of a specific period it could not be reopened by the Swiss court.

Mr Naek told Dawn that: “There is no case pending against the president in the country.”

He said three cases were being heard against Mr Zardari in the country in which he was not the main accused, but was declared one of the beneficiaries. “Ilyas Siddqui and Benazir Bhutto were the main accused. Mr Siddiqui was acquitted and after the death of Ms Bhutto the cases became infructuous,” he said.

The former law minister said when the main accused had been acquitted how the beneficiary could be tried.

But an official of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), who did not want to be named, said he believed that the cases could be reopened after Mr Zardari left the office of the president.

Interestingly, the PPP government and lawyers of Mr Zardari never pleaded before the Supreme Court that there were no cases pending against the president. Instead, they always referred to Article 248 of the constitution to claim immunity.

In reply to a question about 12 boxes containing the record of Swiss cases lying with the NAB, the official said the record was still under the NAB’s custody and it could be used if cases against Mr Zardari were reopened after the expiry of his tenure as president.

A disgruntled PPP leader said that the cases could be reopened in local courts because by writing the letter to Swiss authorities the former law minister had admitted that Mr Zardari was the main accused.

“The mistake committed by Mr Naek may create problems for Mr Zardari in future,” he said.