Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Damoclean Sword that continues to swing

(As most know) in July 2003 a Swiss Examining Magistrate, Daniel Devaud, convicted Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari of money laundering - the charge of corruption was not included as the funds had been placed in Geneva banks prior to the recent enactment of Swiss anti-corruption legislation.

Daniel Devaud sentenced them to a six-month suspended jail term, fined them $50,000 each and ordered they pay more than $2m to the Pakistani Government. He said they had illegally deposited millions of dollars in accounts in Switzerland, and ordered the money be returned to Pakistan.

To some the six-month suspended sentence may seem light for such serious offences, but they were the maximum the magistrate could legally impose in his capacity as a junior judge.

In a bid to avoid public opprobrium the couple appealed to a higher court and have thereby exposed themselves to the risk of longer sentences and tougher sanctions being imposed by a superior court.

On appeal the magistrate’s verdict was challenged simply on the basis of some legal technicalities and no effort was made to dispute any part of the overwhelming documentary evidence dredged up against them in the lower court.

In November 2003, the three judges of the Tribunal de Police dismissed all of the technical objections, while noting: ‘In any case, to the extent that the accused were to be found guilty, it is doubtful that a prison term of less than 18 months could be considered.’

However, on a point of law these judges declared themselves incompetent to try the case and following due Swiss legal procedure referred the case directly to the Swiss Attorney General.

Now according to legal experts the Swiss attorney general has three options open to him:
- Move the trial to a higher court
- Prosecute the couple himself on the basis of the established evidence.
- Order a fresh investigation.

The third option seems unlikely as the legality of the evidence presented in the lower court has never been questioned.

Sixteen months have elapsed and it is probable that the Swiss attorney general could announce his decision any day now. And, despite the claims of PPP’s propagandists, the future does not bode too well for BB & Co.

If the Swiss courts sentence BB and spouse to a prolonged spell in prison, no one, apart from her most biased die-hard and illiterate supporters, would give the slightest credence to any allegation of ‘political victimisation’. Unlike ours, the Swiss legal system is highly respected and completely above board.

And so, you might notice members of the regime - like Shaikh Rashid - when asked about PPP's potential threat to their PML (Chumvha Group) smirking on TV, all the while keeping their grubby fingers crossed behind their backs hoping that the judges in Geneva will come through for them.


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