Saturday, April 11, 2009

Zardari strikes again – Rs 500m kickback! by Nadia Khan

When Talal Bugti, son of slain Bloch Sardar Nawab Akbar Bugti, was conducting his press conference about the kickback in exchange for release of the rent or royalty money of the gas fields in the Bugti areas, he wasn't aware of the killing of three Bloch leaders initially abducted and then killed by security agencies. His startling allegations against the three top office holders of Pakistan – the President, the Governor, and the Interior Ministry Advisor when mixed with the new findings took the whole province by storm and everyone realized as what is going on in the largest but the poorest province of the federation!

Like a norm, President Office through his spokesperson has denied the allegations by calling them "rubbish" and said, "The president does not get himself involved in such practices." When Farhat ullah Baber was denying these charges I was recalling my memory about President Zardari, the special spouse of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, when he used to be termed as "Mr 10 Percent" and when New York Times had written "Pakistani investigators accused Mr. Zardari of embezzling as much $1.5 billion from government accounts. British and American private investigators working for the government of Nawaz Sharif who produced a thick volume of documents tracing what they said were multimillion-dollar kickbacks paid to the couple in return for the award of government contracts, and a web of bank accounts across the world that were used to hide the money."

NY Times ten years ago, on January 8, 1998, detailed the documents on the extraordinary corruption of Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, now who is holding the highest office in Pakistan and named as the caretaker head of the Pakistan People's Party until his 19 year old son, Bilawal Zardari – who has changed his name from Bilawal Zardari to Bilawal Bhutto for the sake of party head position, can run the party.

In 2007, a decade after, she was labelled as a leader who has impoverished the nation from military rule to democracy; but a decade ago she was at the heart of a widening corruption inquiry that Pakistani investigators say has traced more than $100 million in foreign bank accounts and properties controlled by late Benazir Bhutto & Zardari jointly.

Starting from a cache of documents bought for $1 million from a shadowy intermediary, the investigators have detailed a pattern of secret payments by foreign companies that sought favours during Ms. Bhutto's two terms as Prime Minister, and primarily Mr Zardari was the man behind all such deals! The documents left uncertainty over the degree of involvement of late Ms. Bhutto, whose rose to power in 1988, had made her the first woman to lead a Muslim country. But investigators had traced the pervasive role of her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who turned his marriage to Ms. Bhutto into a source of virtually unchallengeable power, writes NY Times.

In 1995, a leading French military contractor, Dassault Aviation, agreed to pay Mr. Zardari and a Pakistani partner $200 million for a $4 billion jet fighter deal that fell apart only when Ms. Bhutto's Government was dismissed. In another deal, a leading Swiss company hired to curb customs fraud in Pakistan paid millions of dollars between 1994 and 1996 to offshore companies controlled by Mr. Zardari and Ms. Bhutto's widowed mother, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, now living in Dubai.

In the largest single payment investigators have discovered, a gold bullion dealer in the Middle East was shown to have deposited at least $10 million into an account controlled by Mr. Zardari after the Bhutto Government gave him a monopoly on gold imports that sustained Pakistan's jewellery industry. The money was deposited into a Citibank account in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, one of several Citibank accounts for companies owned by Mr. Zardari.

Together, the documents provided an extraordinarily detailed look at high-level corruption in Pakistan. With this high stake of corruption late Ms. Bhutto during her five years in power, the economy became so enfeebled that she spent much of her time negotiating new foreign loans, to stave off default on $62 billion in public debt.

A worldwide search for properties secretly bought by Mr Zardari and late Ms Bhutto is still in its early stages and probably could not be concluded after the induction of national reconciliation ordinance, which has halted all such investigation and had given clean slate to Mr Zardari, first to contest Presidential elections and then to run the country peacefully.

However as a blast from the past, its worth reading that once found Mr. Zardari went on a shopping spree in the mid-1990's, purchasing among other things a $4 million, 355-acre estate south of London. In 1994 and 1995, he used a Swiss bank account and an American Express card to buy jewellery worth $660,000 -- including $246,000 at Cartier Inc. and Bulgari Corp. in Beverly Hills, California, USA in barely a month.

Rest of the thinking I leave it to people of Pakistan - a nation so poor that perhaps 70 percent of its 160 million people are illiterate, 40% not able to manage meal twice a day, and millions have no proper shelter, no schools, no hospitals, not even safe drinking water - to extract the truth from this new episode of Talal Bugti allegations.

Governor Zulfiqar Magsi's office and Rahman Malik along with his personal assistant Mr Aasi both have denied the claims in a normal manner!

The claim of Rahman Malik is also not worth noting as how he rose from FIA directorship to London-based number of Hotel chains owner and then as a security advisor of Ms Bhutto, unfortunately she was killed and no accountability for him, then his new slot; advisor to Interior Ministry tells his progression in power politics as opportunist!

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