LAHORE: Despite expressing complete neutrality on the graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and terming it an ‘internal matter’, the government of Switzerland has said that they will always be ready to cooperate with other states requesting mutual legal assistance through established channels.
Responding to written queries by The Express Tribune, the Swiss Embassy in Islamabad stated that: “Contrary to misperceptions, Swiss banking regulation is no obstacle for authorities to prosecute. It was regularly lifted in all kinds of investigations including tax offences and money laundering cases.”
However, one thing is clear: There are no criminal proceedings pending against President Zardari or former prime minister Benazir Bhutto after a Swiss investigating magistrate handed down a six-month suspended sentence against the couple.
“One thing must be clearly understood. Contrary to common perception, the Supreme Court is not asking the government to write a letter to re-open criminal proceedings against anyone,” clarified prominent lawyer Abid Hasan Minto.
“Pakistan’s government was never party to criminal proceedings against the Swiss companies SGS and Cotecna. Those proceedings were started by the Swiss government on their own initiative since both the companies are Swiss. Once the charges of money-laundering were proven, then the Pakistani government asked the Swiss government to return the $60 million frozen in the name of those Swiss companies,” added Minto.
“When the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was signed by former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s government filed a petition asking to withdraw the application regarding the frozen money. And now the court
is asking to revive that application if possible,” said Minto.
“However, there is a time-barring factor here. It is believed that if the Swiss cases are not revived by April, they would be rendered dead and then they cannot be revived. That is why the court is pressing the government to write the application now.”
Both the SGS and Cotecna are shipment inspection firms who were hired by late Bhutto’s government in 1995 to check imports for quality. Money-laundering speculations surfaced when it was reported in the media that the couple had deposited kickbacks worth millions in two alleged front off-shore companies. The party, President Zardari and Bhutto, during her lifetime, vehemently denied the charges.
The Pakistan Peoples Party termed the whole saga a ‘political witch-hunt’. In a recent interview, President Zardari categorically stated that his government would never ask the Swiss government to re-open the matter.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2012.