Bhutto files appeal in Swiss money-laundering probe

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GENEVA, Nov 16 (Reuters) Geneva lawyers for former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said today they had lodged an appeal in a Swiss inquiry into alleged money laundering by Bhutto and her husband.

The motion filed last week with Geneva's criminal appeals court could lead to hearings in the long-running case, but not before early next year, Bhutto's lawyer Alec Reymond said.

Geneva judicial authorities have been investigating allegations Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari received kickbacks from Swiss cargo inspection companies in the 1990s and that the multi-million dollar proceeds were stashed in Swiss bank accounts.

Investigating magistrate Vincent Fournier wrapped up his inquiry in late October and handed over his confidential findings to chief prosecutor Daniel Zappelli for action.

But if a motion is filed contesting an investigating magistrate's decisions, a court is asked to rule.

''We have lodged an appeal with the appeals chamber on two grounds,'' Reymond told Reuters.

The grounds were Fournier's refusal to call certain witnesses that Bhutto had asked to be heard and his decision to let the Pakistan government remain a civil party in the criminal case, according to her lawyer.

''These witnesses were officials at the time, who could have confirmed that the SGS and Cotecna contracts were attributed in a perfectly normal way,'' Reymond said, referring to two Swiss inspection companies at the centre of the allegations.

''The judge found it would be too complicated as they live abroad and he considered his inquiry to be complete.'' FAILURE TO CALL WITNESSES Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month after eight years in exile, also challenged Pakistan's status as a civil party in the case.

Reymond said this had taken on more weight in the light of the reconciliation ordinance, a controversial amnesty signed by President Pervez Musharraf, which prepared the way for forging a power-sharing accord with Bhutto by erasing 11 corruption charges against her and her husband in Pakistan.

Pakistan's Supreme Court has yet to rule on the amnesty.

Bhutto has denied money-laundering in testimony before Fournier and called the accusations politically motivated.

Fournier has conceded money-laundering allegations would be harder to prove under Swiss law if corruption charges against Bhutto were dropped in Pakistan. A Swiss conviction for aggravated money-laundering can mean up to five years in prison.

Bhutto and her husband were convicted in Geneva in 2003 of having laundered funds worth some 13 million dollar through offshore companies and ordered to return the frozen funds to Pakistan.

That verdict was thrown out automatically upon appeal, sparking the latest investigation. The funds and a necklace worth some 260,000 dollar remain frozen in connection with the Swiss case.

Reuters PY RS2249

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