December issue 2004

By | News & Politics | Published 16 years ago

Asif Zardari. Photograph: AFP

Asif Zardari. Photograph: AFP

Asif Zardari’s marriage to Benazir Bhutto in 1986 never promised to be a smooth ride. But it has proved to be more of a rollercoaster than he may have bargained for. During their 18-year union, he has spent almost 10 years behind bars and about five in the Prime Minister’s house.

Times were different when they were married. General Zia was very much around, consumed by a desire to keep Asif’s wife out of the country’s political scene. Two years later, the dictator was killed in a plane crash, and Benazir led her party to power with Zardari by her side. Following the removal of the PPP government, he was jailed on various charges, including corruption and kidnapping for ransom and murder.

Among the cases registered against him was one in which firing on MQM camps in Karachi had resulted in the death of several of the party’s workers. He was also implicated in the Murtaza Bokhari kidnapping for ransom case. Bokhari, a UK national, lodged a complaint stating that he had remitted a large sum of money from the UK to Karachi for business purposes and was kidnapped by unknown persons who he accused were acting at the behest of Asif Zardari. Bokhari alleged that his captors took him to the bank after strapping a bomb to his leg with the threat that if he did not withdraw the sum of 12 million rupees and hand it over to them they would detonate the bomb by remote control.

Zardari also had three cases registered against him for offences under the Bank Ordinance 1984 in which he was accused of using his influence in granting loans to various individuals. Cases under the Anti Corruption Laws were registered against him for unlawful allotment of KDA land. Last but not least, he was booked for possessing weapons without license under Section 13-D of the Arms Ordinance.

However, a change of government was around the corner and he was released after only 18 months in prison. The new political climate required a different approach, and not only was Zardari absolved of all charges, he was instantly elevated to the status of federal minister for water and power in the 13-day cabinet of Balkh Sher Mazari. General elections followed soon after and his party once again returned to power, paving the way for him to once again ensconce himself in the prime minister’s house.

Three years later, on November 5, 1996, the PPP government was again dismissed, and it was back to the slammer for Zardari. He was arrested from the Governor’s House in the Punjab. Since then, he was released only thrice on parole, for four days in each instance, once when his young nephew committed suicide and again to attend his mother’s funeral and her chehlum.

During this incarceration of over eight years, more than a dozen cases, mostly of murder and corruption, were registered against Asif Zardari. Not a single case of corruption has been proved against him so far. However, to ensure his continued imprisonment, he was charged with a fresh case as soon as he was either acquitted or granted bail in one. The BMW case, in which he was bailed out, was the last one filed against him — two days after he was granted bail in the earlier cases. Incidentally, he was kept behind bars for those two days as well, despite having been granted bail.

A brief list of the charges against Asif Zardari follows:

Criminal cases

1) Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s murder: Two FIRs (First Information Reports) were registered by the police on September 20, 1996 and September 29, 1996 after the murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto. However, Zardari was arrested on allegations made in FIR 443/96, the third FIR registered, that he conspired to murder Murtaza Bhutto. This trial has been pending for eight years. Zardari was granted bail on medical grounds on November 24, 1998. The government’s appeal before the Sindh High Court against the bail order is still pending.

Although all the witnesses have been examined, the trial judge on September 19, 1998 dismissed Asif Zardari’s acquittal application as being premature. In February 2000, he appealed this order to the High Court which is still in pending.

2) The container case: Asif Zardari was arrested under FIR No. 2/97, registered on February 16, 1997 while already under arrest for the murder of Murtaza Bhutto. Registered under anti-corruption laws, this case charged Zardari, former high commissioner to UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, a PIA official and the deputy collector of customs with non-payment of the freight and custom duties on goods sent abroad. When the receipt of airfreight charges paid to Pakistan International Airlines was produced during the trial and the concerned Customs officer gave evidence that goods were not liable to custom duty, the government exonerated the PIA official and DC Customs by withdrawing the charges but the case is still pending against Asif Zardari, although he has been granted bail.

3) Alam Baloch’s murder: Alam Baloch was a former federal secretary who was killed on September 18, 1997 in Hyderabad while Zardari was already in prison in Karachi. He was granted bail in this case (FIR No. 70/97) on December 11, 1999 and the matter is still in pending.

4) Justice Nizam’s murder: State-owned television announced on January 12, 1999 that Asif Zardari had been implicated in the murder of Justice Nizam Ahmed who was gunned down in June 1996 along with his son. A former PPP candidate from Sialkot, Akhtar Javed Pirzada, who had also been arrested in this case, later became approver for the state, but resiled from his confession soon after the dismissal of the Nawaz Sharif government. The government had also charged two more people with the murder in order to implicate Asif, but had to backtrack after it was revealed in the media that one of the alleged gunmen had died some time before the judge’s murder.

Interestingly, the original FIR did not name Zardari as the accused in the Justice Nizam murder. Information supplied by one of them led to the recovery of the murder weapon. According to the chemical examiner’s report, the bullet recovered at the scene of the crime matched the weapon. In January 1999, based on the confessional statement by Akhtar Javed Pirzada, who was promised pardon by the authorities, the police filed a fresh FIR charging Asif Zardari with the murder. In this, the name of the individual who had led the police to the murder weapon was deleted.

Picked up from judicial custody by the Karachi police during the weekend when courts were closed, Zardari was taken to the CIA police station and tortured for five days to extract a confession. The government claimed that the severe wounds to his neck and tongue were the result of attempted suicide and two cases of attempted suicide were registered against him.

The case of Justice Nizam is still in pending, with Zardari having been granted bail on March 12, 1999.

5) Attempted suicide: These two cases have been referred to above. The said cases (FIR Nos: 65/99 and 66/99) were pending before the Judicial Magistrate Karachi South and were not withdrawn by the government despite the judicial tribunal’s report that the injuries were not self-sustained. Although bail was initially granted in February 2000 by the Magistrate, Zardari finally managed to prevail in this instance. The judge in his remarks recommended that a case be filed against the police officials involved in inflicting the torture.

6) Narcotics: Asif Zardari was named in FIR No. 525/97 registered under the control of Narcotics Substances Act 1997, at Qila Gujar Singh Lahore, Punjab on October 19, 1997. First, Arif Baloch, a resident of Karachi, was charged with theft and taken to Lahore, where he was tortured to implicate Asif in the narcotics case. After he had done their bidding, Baloch was acquitted of theft and held in the narcotics case.

The police also accused 75-year-old, Shoram Khan, and tortured him to implicate Asif Zardari, and the fact that he refused to do so was recorded by the Sindh High Court. The police inspector in charge of the investigation stated in the constitutional petition filed by him before the Lahore High Court that he was pressurised to falsely implicate Asif Zardari and upon his refusal, was demoted on false grounds. Zardari filed an application for bail on medical and statutory grounds in March 2000, which entitle a person to bail if the case has not concluded in two years and has borne no result because of the judge’s failure to hear the application that has been pending for over a year.

The case was being used to pressurise the authorities of the Criminal Justice International Cooperation Act 1990 to handover administratively recovered documents from Britain. There has been no recovery of narcotics and there are no witnesses.

It is pertinent to note that on October 19, 1997, despite intense pressure from the Sharif government, General Mushtaq, who was heading the Anti-Narcotics Board at the time, refused to register a case against Zardari because there was no evidence to suggest his involvement in narcotics. This view was supported by former interior and narcotics minister under the Nawaz Sharif government, Mr. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein, in an interview to the Friday Times, July 14, 2000. According to him, the government’s motive in filing this case was to find a way to invoke the Criminal Justice International Cooperation Act 1990 in order to uncover Zardari’s alleged assets in the UK. However, the case is still pending although Zardari has been granted bail.
Accountability references:

1) Asset reference: In this reference, Asif Zardari is accused of owning property beyond his known sources of income. In an attempt to coerce them into making a false statement implicating him, the properties belonging to 155 people have been frozen. Although, the trial began in February 1998, only two of 21 prosecution witnesses have been examined so far. This reference, which was filed while he was already under arrest, is pending before the accountability court at Attock Fort.

2) The tractor case: This reference concerns the alleged receipt of commissions in contracts whereby low-cost Polish tractors, costing 150,000 rupees were imported for the benefit of Pakistani farmers. However, Zardari has denied the allegation. No witness or admissible document have been produced to substantiate the charge. The reference is still pending adjudication before the accountability court, and Zardari has been granted bail.

3) Steel mill case: The allegations in this reference are that the former chairman of Pakistan Steel Mill, Sajjad Hussain, had paid illegal gratification to Asif Zardari. The chairman of the Steel Mill was repeatedly arrested and tortured on this count by Saif-ur-Rahman. Following his attempted suicide, his wife approached the Sindh High Court for redressal, saying that she feared for his life, given his treatment by the state. Subsequently the chairman was killed and to this day, it is not known whether his death was a state-sponsored murder or whether he was the victim of a random act of violence.

The trial, in accountability court No.1 Rawalpindi, began in April 1998 and is still pending. The prosecution examined 15 witnesses and rested its case. Zardari’s statement was recorded in May 2001. No defense witnesses have been examined. Zardari has been granted bail in this case.

4) ARY gold case: This reference charges Asif Zardari with taking kickbacks from the ARY company as reward for a contract for the import of gold into Pakistan. The owner of ARY, Haji Abdul Razzaq, and Zardari, have both denied the charges. This reference is pending adjudication before the accountability court in Rawalpindi. The prosecution has examined only three witnesses since the trial began in May 1998. Bail has been granted to Zardari in this case as well.

5) SGS Cotecna case: This charge concerns the alleged receipt of commissions in contracts awarded to two Swiss companies (SGC and Cotecna) for pre-shipment inspection of import into Pakistan.

The trial in the SGS reference, which began in May 1998, resulted in the conviction of Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto in April 1999, but the judgement was set aside by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on April 6, 2001. The case has gone for retrial.No fresh application has been made on Zardari’s behalf in connection with his release since the Supreme Court’s decision. Zardari was granted bail in this case, while he was still being tried.

According to section 382-B in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc), imprisonment of an accused shall be reduced by the period he has been detained in custody for such offences and sentence remissions available under prison rules and remissions granted by the federal and provincial governments. Seen in this light, Zardari has served the substantive part of any sentence he may be given in the future for such offences.

As far as the fine is concerned, section 65 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) stipulates that the court cannot award imprisonment in default of payment of fine for a period more than one-fourth the substantive sentence. Given this provision and the remission in sentence to which Zardari is entitled, he has served imprisonment even in default of payment of fines also.

6) Polo ground reference: This reference was filed by General Musharraf’s military regime alleging that Asif Zardari made illegal use of the Capital Development Authority to build a polo ground in the Prime Minister’s house in Islamabad.

The case was adjourned sine die by the accountability court in Attock Fort in March 2001 on account of the co-accused Shafi Shahwani’s ill-health.

7) BMW reference: This reference, the 14th criminal case instituted by the government to prevent Zardari’s release from prison, was filed after he was granted bail by the session judge in the last case against him which pertained to narcotics smuggling. Although he was promptly re-arrested, the charges against him initially remained unspecified. The case, when it was finally announced, involved the evasion of duties in the import of a BMW car by an alleged front man of Zardari, who was accused of paying five per cent less in import duty than was due.

Interestingly, although the car in question was in NAB’s possession for two years, it did not issue any notice to Asif Zardari in connection with the said duty. The Bureau alleges, however, that the latter imported the car in 1995 and misdeclared its value thereof and evaded payment of duties and charges. The fact is, however, that the car is not registered in Zardari’s name. It has changed ownership thrice since its purchase and there is no document linking Zardari with it. Secondly, under Section 32 of the Customs Act 1969, short levied duty cannot be recovered three years after a declaration by any importer. As such, the recovery of dues, if any, are barred by limitation.

As far as the trial in this case is concerned, the prosecutor examined one witness, who was instrumental in importing the car from UK to Pakistan. The witness accused Ghani Ansari and his brother Rashid Ansari for importing the car through him, and said that Zardari had nothing to do with it. Zardari has filed an application for acquittal, which is pending. In the meantime, however, he a free man once more.