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The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"Several notices were issued for Miss Bhutto to appear"
 real 28k

Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Bhutto given jail sentence
Benazir Bhutto
Ms Bhutto has been living in self-imposed exile since 1999
By Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad

An anti-corruption court in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi has sentenced former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to a three-year jail term on the charge of absconding from the process of justice.

Ms Bhutto, who has been living abroad in self-imposed exile, was convicted under a special anti-corruption law introduced by the military government.

The law explicitly states that if a person deliberately avoids appearance in a corruption case, he or she can be declared an absconder and sentenced to serve a maximum period of three years in jail.

General Musharraf
General Musharraf introduced the law
Handing down his decision, the special court's judge said that several notices had been issued for Ms Bhutto to appear in connection with a corruption case, but she had failed to do so.

The judge said it was clear the former prime minister had been avoiding appearing in the case and was thus guilty of subverting the proceedings.

The court accepted the prosecution's request to sentence her to the maximum three years' rigorous jail term.

Possible extradition

The judge further said in his order that, since Ms Bhutto was not present before the court, a perpetual warrant of arrest should be issued.

Legal experts say this might give the authorities the legal basis to approach a foreign government to seek her arrest and extradition.

Earlier this year, Pakistan's Supreme Court had set aside a lower court's judgement against Ms Bhutto in a corruption case and ordered a retrial.

But the military authorities soon filed several more cases of corruption against her.

The latest court verdict does not mean that Ms Bhutto has been found guilty of corruption. But after being sentenced to a long jail term, she might have to further delay her return to the country.

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See also:

06 Apr 01 | South Asia
Benazir Bhutto's extraordinary career
16 May 01 | South Asia
Musharraf: No deal with Bhutto
06 Apr 01 | South Asia
Risk of returning
09 Aug 00 | South Asia
Politics ban for Sharif and Bhutto
01 Mar 01 | South Asia
Timeline: Pakistan
01 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
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