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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Swiss judge convicts Bhutto

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto: Dogged by corruption charges

A judge in Switzerland has found former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari, guilty of money laundering.

Investigation Judge Daniel Devaud in Geneva sentenced them to a six-month suspended jail term, fined them $50,000 each and ordered they pay more than $2m to the Pakistani Government.

He said they had illegally deposited millions of dollars in accounts in Switzerland, and ordered the money be returned to Pakistan.

Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari deny misappropriating the money, and are considering an appeal.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says the ruling will come as a blow to the former prime minister, who has always said that corruption cases against her in Pakistan were politically motivated.

The latest ruling is a more serious matter and may make it more difficult for her to defend her position, our correspondent says.

Appeal

The case relates to a 1998 indictment in which Benazir Bhutto was accused of having access to money obtained through kickbacks and commissions from two Swiss companies with contracts with the then Pakistani Government.

BENAZIR BHUTTO
1953 - born in Sindh
1979 - father executed
1990/96 - dismissed as Prime Minister
1999 - convicted for not appearing in court
2002 - barred from standing in general elections
2003 - found guilty of money laundering by Swiss judge
An investigation found several numbered accounts in Switzerland in which more than $11m had been deposited.

Benazir Bhutto strongly denies having had access to the accounts and is considering whether to appeal against the ruling.

The couple's lawyer, Farooq Naek, described the order as "illogical, unreasonable, inconsistent with law, based on malafide [bad faith] and ... politically motivated."

He complained that the announcement had been made without notices having been served on either Ms Bhutto or Mr Zardari.

Ms Bhutto lives in self-imposed exile in London and the Middle East.

Asked whether the Swiss ruling could affect Ms Bhutto's permission to remain in the UK, a Home Office spokesman told BBC News Online that they do not comment on individual cases.

But they said: "A person holding an entry clearance can be refused entry to the United Kingdom if there has been a change of circumstances since the visa was issued."

Her husband is currently serving a jail term in Pakistan for corruption.

In a separate development, Mr Zardari was formally indicted on Tuesday for the murder of a chairman of state-owned Pakistan Steel, Sajjad Hussain, who was shot in 1998.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"A ruling from Switzerland will be a serious problem for Bhutto"



SEE ALSO:
Benazir Bhutto's extraordinary career
05 Aug 03  |  South Asia
Swiss trouble for Bhutto
02 Sep 98  |  South Asia



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