The only person who had still been on trial in the high-profile Cotecna corruption case involving President Asif Ali Zardari has been acquitted by an accountability court in Rawalpindi, owing to inadequate evidence against him.
Judge Jahandad Khan Banth, of the Accountability Court III in Rawalpindi, dismissed the charges against A R Siddiqui, a former chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue but said that President Zardari, one of the other accused in the case, would have to face charges after his constitutional immunity from prosecution expired at the end of his term as president.
The president’s mother-in-law, Begun Nusrat Bhutto, also accused in the case, has been temporarily granted immunity from prosecution due to her poor health. Judge Banth declared that she would face prosecution once she recovers.
The case involves an allegedly corrupt award for a contract for supervising pre-shipment at the Karachi port. The contract was awarded to the Swiss company Cotecna in exchange for a bribe during former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s second term.
The former prime minister and her husband (now president) were accused of taking a 6% bribe on the revenue stream the Swiss company expected on the $131 million contract.
The case was temporarily closed after Benazir was assassinated on December 27, 2007. Siddiqui was the sole accused left standing on trial.
The verdict comes about 14 years after the case was first filed by the-then chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, Saifur Rehman, in 1997. The prosecution called 14 witnesses in the case but was unable to convince the judge of the strength of their case.
Siddiqui was accused of awarding the contract to Cotecna at the behest of the former prime minister while violating government rules on contracts and procurement.
The case had been moved to the court in Rawalpindi in 2001. Seven directors of the Swiss company, including its chairman, were also co-accused in the case but were declared proclaimed offenders after they did not answer the court’s summons.
Under Swiss law in the 1990s, bribing foreign officials in order to obtain contracts was legal and even deductable from the taxes a company paid to the Swiss government.
Cotecna was awarded a contract to inspect the cargo being loaded onto ships at the Karachi port, a task at which the company specialises in. The company had been approaching the government of Pakistan for the award of such a contract in the early 1990s, but the administration of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as the caretaker government of former prime minister Moin Qureshi, had turned them down.
Earlier the Cotecna and SGS corruption reference was filed under one case but were later separated and tried discretely.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2011.