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PAKISTAN

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 20minutes.ch 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Weeks before Bhutto was killed, Pakistan had withdrawn its request for help from the Swiss, and Geneva investigators formally closed their side of the probe in 2008.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.

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PAKISTAN

‘Risk-taking hostages should pay for rescue’

Several Swiss politicians have called for certain freed hostages to contribute financially to the costs of their rescue.

The two Bernese police officers who escaped from their Pakistani Taliban captors almost two months ago may have to share in the costs incurred by the state during their rescue, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.

“The issue of sharing costs is decided from case to case,” a foreign ministry spokesperson told the newspaper.

Taliban soldiers captured Daniela Widmer and David Och after they had ventured into Pakistan on their way home from India. The couple said that they had not realized the full extent of the danger they were placing themselves in by crossing the border, because the foreign ministry had not described Pakistan to be as dangerous as Mali or Afghanistan.

Criticism is being levelled at the couple from various corners for having taken an unnecessarily high risk in trying to cross through Pakistan.

“Just because a country is not the most dangerous of all countries, this does not mean that a trip is without risk,” National Councillor Kathy Riklin for the Christian Democratic Party told the newspaper.

In fact, “any tourist and non-urgent travel” through Pakistan is discouraged by the foreign ministry.

Andreas Aebi for the Swiss People’s Party is one of several politicians who think that certain hostages should be accountable to the state for the costs incurred during a rescue operation.

“Anyone who takes such a risk should bear the cost of the consequences,” he told Tages Anzeiger.

The costs can reach extraordinary heights, particularly where ransom has to be paid. Ransom is typically between one and four million US dollars.

In 2009, the government spent five and a half million francs ($5,956,485.73) to rescue two Swiss hostages who had been captured in Mali.

The costs for the latest case have yet to be made public. Switzerland has denied paying a ransom.

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