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APRIL 26, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 16

Then, too, the case against the couple seems strong. In February 1997 the Swiss government became a party to Islamabad's suit and turned over documents relating to the SGS customs contract. Bhutto's former principal secretary testified against her, and prosecutors wielded two letters from the head of an SGS subsidiary, each promising to wire a 6% commission to a Zardari shell company if SGS won the contract (which was awarded without open bidding). In June 1995, Ehtesab officials say that $100,803 was paid into the offshore account of one of these--Nassam Overseas Inc. Records from the other, Bomer Finance Inc., indicate that in October 1994, a $159,516 payment was made from the company's Union Bank of Switzerland account to a British jeweler.

Bhutto and her husband argue that the charges are part of a vendetta waged against them and the PPP by Nawaz Sharif and his rival Pakistan Muslim League. The Ehtesab Bureau is led by a known Bhutto foe, Senator Saifur Rehman, and the cases against the couple are the only ones it has so far brought before the court. One of the two judges hearing this particular case, Justice Malik Qayyum, is the son of the man who sentenced Bhutto's father to death in 1978, as well as the brother of a PML legislator. Early in the trial the court was forced to move from Lahore--a Nawaz Sharif stronghold--to Rawalpindi. Last month the Supreme Court again chastised the bench, this time for rushing a verdict and not allowing the defense to present its case fully. "This verdict is a stigma not on me or my husband, but on those who have given it," says Bhutto.

Indeed, considering the welter of claims and counterclaims, it isn't clear whether the court's judgment will reassure or worry those concerned about Pakistan's rampant corruption. On the one hand the sentence could convince investors that authorities are serious about cracking down on graft. "It is the first important step toward cleansing the political system of corrupt elements," says Information Minister Mushahid Hussain. Yet the Sharif family's Ittifaq Group, one of the 10 largest conglomerates in Pakistan, has itself been accused of tax evasion and accepting kickbacks from Korean companies. Even those who believe the Bhuttos are guilty aren't convinced that others will be similarly brought to book.

Nor does the conviction necessarily bode well for Pakistan's immediate future. The day after the decision was handed down, Islamabad's three English-language dailies led with three different stories: the verdict, the test-firing of a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads into neighboring India, and the possible reimposition of U.S. trade sanctions on both India and Pakistan for their recent missile tests. All three are potentially disruptive, particularly if Bhutto attempts to rally mass protest upon her return. (Only scattered demonstrations were reported last week.) The calm she now claims to feel may not last for long.

Reported by Syed Talat Hussain/Islamabad

PAGE 1  |  2

This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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