Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Timebomb Begins to Tick Louder

Two months ago when I wrote about the impending political cataclysm that is facing Benazir Bhutto and her husband (‘A Damoclean Sword that continues to swing’) I overlooked a significant piece of detail which I had been unaware of and here it is: the couple now face an additional charge of aggravated money laudering which has even more serious consequences.

"Geneva: Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto now faces more severe money laundering charges against her in Switzerland, paving the way for her trial before a Swiss jury, legal officials and lawyers said Thursday.

Geneva investigating magistrate Christine Junod said she had formally charged Bhutto with aggravated money laundering at a hearing on Wednesday, marking a step up from the simple money laundering case first opened in 1997.
"The legal qualification of laundering can be made in this way when the amount thought to have been laundered, in this case about 12 million dollars, is high enough," Junod told the Swiss news agency ATS.
Legal sources said the charge carries a stiffer penalty and also extends the statute of limitations from about seven years to 15 years for the former Pakistani prime minister, who was forced out of office in 1996. Once the examining process is completed, the case must be tried in court by a jury. It carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail as well as a fine of about one million Swiss francs if Bhutto is found guilty. "

Under Swiss law the Examining Magistrate has now to make a pronouncement on this additional new charge of aggravated money laundering. The Examining Magistrate therefore summoned the couple to Geneva for a court hearing set for 15th June 2005 to commence preparatory investigation on the new charge.

Benazir Bhutto’s lawyer, Alec Reymond, petitioned for a delay offering the following explanation:

Mrs. Bhutto has to remain in Dubai for obligations of a familial nature until 25th June, date from which she will start a round of conferences abroad which has been organized for a very long time.” And that she will be entirely at the court’s disposal during the weeks of 2nd to 5th August and from 5th to 9th September.”

Asif Zardari’s lawyer, Saverio Lembo, also petitioned for a delay for the following reason:
Because of his ‘heart attack and subsequent angioplasty’ Zardari’s doctors has instructed him to stay in bed for three weeks and also advised him not to carry out long journeys with in the next six months.

While the Swiss Magistrate grudgingly postponed the hearing to 13 July, she made it clear “there will not be any other postponement of hearing apart from the one accepted today”

She also reminded Benazir Bhutto that obeying the demands of justice was significantly more important than participating in a cycle of conferences. She also mentioned that she was keeping track of all the recent travel activities of Asif Zaradari.

I wonder what comes next?

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