Swiss hostages moved to Pakistan badlands

A Swiss couple kidnapped on holiday in Pakistan have been smuggled into the tribal belt on the Afghan border, a notorious haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda, a local official said Monday.

Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, were abducted on Friday while driving through impoverished and sparsely populated Baluchistan province, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan, in southwest Pakistan.

“We have information the Swiss couple have been shifted to the tribal areas,” provincial home secretary Zafarullah Baloch told AFP.

The semi-autonomous region has been dubbed by Washington as the most dangerous place on Earth and a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda.

Parts of the mountainous badlands are subject to American drone strikes against Taliban and Al-Qaeda commanders, and on the ground the region is considered an intelligence “black hole”.  

Baloch said the couple were probably transferred to the southwestern town of Zhob, but did not specify where precisely they were likely to be now.  

He said searches would continue in Baluchistan and that it was still unclear whether they were kidnapped by criminals or militants.  

The couple’s blue Volkswagen van was found abandoned in Killi Nigah after they were snatched in Loralai district, around 170 kilometres east of the provincial capital Quetta.  

According to visas stamped in their passports, they entered Pakistan from India on June 28th.  

Officials say that so far, the kidnappers have conveyed no demands.  

The pair entered Baluchistan from Punjab province and might have been heading for Quetta, perhaps en route to Iran, officials said.  

The Swiss embassy confirmed that the couple had been abducted but that it was “very hopeful that they will be released soon, and safe and sound”.  

It was the first known kidnapping of Swiss citizens in Pakistan.  

Since 2008, Switzerland has advised against non-essential travel to Pakistan, citing risks including the threat of kidnapping.  

A French tourist was held hostage for three months in Baluchistan from May to August 2009 while travelling with two other French men, a woman and two children in a camper-van with French number plates from Quetta to Iran.  

Baluchistan has seen an upswing in violence recently, suffering from a separatist insurgency, sectarian violence and Taliban militants.  

Hundreds of people have died since rebels rose up in 2004 demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region’s natural oil, gas and mineral resources.


Swiss refuse graft probe of Pakistan’s leader

Swiss prosecutors announced Friday that they had refused to reopen a probe into alleged corruption in the 1990s by current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his late wife Benazir Bhutto.

Swiss refuse graft probe of Pakistan's leader
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Photo: AFP

Prosecutors in Geneva said that the decision was taken on February 4 this year, and that they had only opted to make it public as a result of street protests in Pakistan.

They declined to comment in detail, but the Swiss news portal published photographs of anti-Zardari protestors burning Switzerland's flag at a rally in Pakistan.

Zardari and Bhutto were alleged to have siphoned $12 million in state cash in the 1990s, when he was a government minister and she was premier.

Bhutto lost office in 1996, and a year later Pakistan made a formal request for Swiss legal help in a probe of the couple and Bhutto's mother Nusrat Bhutto.

Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates in 1997, returning in 2007, only to be assassinated in a bomb attack on an election rally the same year.

Weeks before Bhutto was killed, Pakistan had withdrawn its request for help from the Swiss, and Geneva investigators formally closed their side of the probe in 2008.

Zardari, meanwhile, was arrested in Pakistan on graft charges after his wife's government fell, before being freed in 2004, going into exile in the United Arab Emirates, then returning after Bhutto's death.

He was elected president in 2008.

In November 2012, however, Pakistan's government renewed its request for Swiss legal assistance after being ordered to do so by its own supreme court.

Geneva prosecutors underlined Friday that no new evidence had emerged since the case was dropped in 2008, meaning they could not reopen the investigation.

In addition, the fact that the alleged offences took place more than 15 years ago meant that the statute of limitations had expired, they said.

They also complained about mixed messages from Pakistan.

Just a month after filing the renewed request, Pakistan sent them a letter stating that the call for a revived probe was linked to domestic politics and that there was no need to heed it.

That amounted to abuse of the legal system, prosecutors said.