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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK


World: South Asia

Jail sentence for Bhutto

The pair are alleged to have made money from corrupt deals

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband have been found guilty of corruption and sentenced to five years in prison.


Benazir Bhutto: "I have been denied a fair trial"
The verdict was announced by a Pakistani court at the end of a trial into charges that Ms Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, received money from a Swiss-based organisation.

The Pakistani authorities have said they are seeking Ms Bhutto's arrest through Interpol.

However, Ms Bhutto has denounced the court's decision.

In an interview with the BBC, she said she had been denied a fair trial, and would consult with her lawyers about lodging an appeal.


Owen Bennett-Jones: Even if her appeal succeeds, Ms Bhutto's legal problems will not be over
She also said she intended to return to Pakistan next week.

Ms Bhutto, Pakistan's first and only female premier, was disqualified from public office by the Lahore High Court, meeting in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

She and her senator husband were also fined $8.6m.

Mr Zardari is already in jail on other corruption charges.

Kick-backs

The verdict was the first in a series of trials launched under the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif into charges that Ms Bhutto and her husband made millions of dollars from corrupt deals and kick-backs during two terms in office.


[ image: Mr Sharif's government was on a witchhunt, Ms Bhutto said]
Mr Sharif's government was on a witchhunt, Ms Bhutto said
The trial centred on allegations that the couple received kick-backs from the Swiss firm SGS which was supposed to check shipments from Pakistan to avoid tax evasion.

The case rested on documents made available by a Swiss investigating magistrate who said that he found evidence that the Bhutto family were the beneficiaries of offshore accounts in which illegal commissions were placed.

Ms Bhutto, who is currently abroad, has previously maintained that the Swiss papers are forgeries and that she is innocent of all the corruption charges against her.

She has twice been sacked on disputed charges of corruption.

Witchhunt

Ms Bhutto was ousted as prime minister in November 1996 on charges of corruption, economic incompetence and sanctioning police hit squads in her home town of Karachi.

But she has consistently denied any wrongdoing. She says the Sharif government is on a witchhunt to try to end her career and stifle her opposition to his two-year rule.

Ms Bhutto's earlier term of office also came to a sudden end in August 1990 after only 20 months in power. She and her husband were then too charged with abuses of power, corruption and economic mismanagement, but no charges were ever proven.

She is expected to make an immediate appeal to the supreme court.



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