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Swiss court orders payment of $2.4m

November 23, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Nov 22: A Swiss court has ordered the restitution of about $2.4 million to the Pakistan government from the frozen accounts of an offshore company of which former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari were alleged beneficiaries.

An announcement by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Saturday said that these accounts of DARGAL Associated SA, Geneva, were seized by the Swiss government in response to a Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) request made by the Pakistan government.

These accounts were allegedly laundered for commissions and kickbacks to Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari in the Ursus Tractor case.

“The file establishes beyond any doubt that these commissions, under the cover of alleged ‘consultancy fees’ were meant to remunerate the illicit advantages obtained by URSUS from the Pakistani administration thanks to the interventions of Asif Ali Zardari,” observed Mrs Christine Junod, the Examining Magistrate of Geneva in her Nov 18, 2003, orders.

Meanwhile, a PPP spokesman said that the restitution, in response MLA request, has nothing to do either with Ms Bhutto or with Asif Ali Zardari or with Begum Nusrat Bhutto.

The order of examining magistrate however allowed the respondents — Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari — who were earlier indicted in the Ursus corruption case in Pakistan, to file their possible claims on the assets at stake.

The order said that the amount should be transferred to the benefit of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, at their current value, up to the amount of the undue commissions paid by URSUS, ie $239,0133 in principal along with accrued interests, in accordance with terms which will be indicated to the bank once this decision entered into force.

The request for the instant MLA was filed by the government of Pakistan in 1997, which called for the provision of banking information and other evidence of the said account of DARGAL Associated SA.

In July 2002, the government requested the Swiss authorities under MLA for restitution of funds frozen on account of DARGAL Associated SA.

The examining magistrate while acceding to the request of the government of Pakistan under MLA, ordered the restitution of $239,0133 from the account of DARGAL Associated SA along with the accrued interest to the government of Pakistan.

The PPP spokesman said NAB had once again vainly tried to paint the Swiss examining magistrate’s order as court conviction of Bhuttos as it did in the SGS case before. However, no where has it been said that the offshore companies or the Swiss bank accounts involved in alleged money laundering belonged to the Bhuttos.

Explaining the details of Ursus tractor deal, he asserted that the deal was initiated, proposed and executed by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Neither the Prime Minister nor her husband Asif Ali Zardari had anything to do with it.

He said Ursus were purchased from Poland at a cost of Rs150,000 a piece as against their market value of Rs250,000 at the time.

He said the government was giving the same tractor to the farmers at Rs450,000 a piece.