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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK

World: South Asia

Bhutto's husband faces drugs trial

Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari will appeal against corruption charges

By Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad

A Pakistani judge has formally indicted Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, on charges relating to drug trafficking.

The judge said that Mr Zardari will now be tried for taking money from drugs traffickers in return for his aiding and facilitating their trade.

Mr Zardari and Benazir Bhutto have already been convicted on corruption charges, although their appeal against that conviction has not yet been heard.

The Pakistani authorities have long wanted to indict Mr Zardari on drugs charges because they believed that such an indictment has implications under British law.

British documents sought

Last year, at the request of Pakistan, a British investigator at Bow Street Magistrates Court conducted an inquiry into Mr Zardari.

The inquiry amassed thousands of documents which are currently being held by the UK Home Office.

British law obliges the Home Office to hand over those documents to Islamabad.

Pakistan first asked for the documents last year and has been waiting for a Home Office decision ever since.

Pakistani officials now argue that the commencement of a formal trial against Mr Zardari makes its case for getting the documents even stronger than it was before.

'Devastating evidence'

They say that the documents will provide devastating new evidence that will enable them to bring a whole series of new cases against Mr Zardari and Benazir Bhutto.

Mr Zardari and Ms Bhutto, whose lawyers have opposed the handing over of the documents, have both denied all the corruption charges against them.

They say they are the victims of a politically-motivated campaign to discredit them in the eyes of the Pakistani electorate.

Currently, Benazir Bhutto is living in London, while her husband remains in custody in a Pakistani jail.

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