South Asia

Pakistan says 'no evidence' president took Swiss kickbacks

zardari
Image caption Mr Zardari has immunity from prosecution while president

Pakistan's law minister has told the Supreme Court there is no evidence to implicate President Asif Ali Zardari in Swiss money-laundering cases.

Babar Awan said there was no proof the president had deposited millions of dollars in Swiss banks he allegedly received as kickbacks for contracts.

The president, who denies the charges, has immunity from prosecution.

But the Supreme Court is eager to re-open outstanding corruption cases after scrapping an amnesty last year.

A panel of five judges questioned the law minister as part of its investigation into the progress of outstanding corruption cases.

In December, the Supreme Court repealed the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) - a piece of legislation passed by former President Pervez Musharraf, which effectively granted senior politicians and others amnesty from corruption charges.

There are still court cases pending in Pakistan against Mr Zardari who spent years in jail on corruption charges he says were politically motivated.

The court gave the government two weeks to file a report on what steps it has taken to revive all the outstanding cases.

Swiss accusations

President Asif Ali Zardari and his wife, assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were accused in 1997 of receiving kickbacks from Swiss firms which were awarded goods inspection contracts during Ms Bhutto's time in power between 1993 and 1996.

This case is one of more than a dozen cases of criminal assault and corruption lodged against President Zardari soon after his wife's government was overthrown in 1996.

The Swiss investigation was recently dropped, reportedly on the request of Pakistan's government.

Swiss prosecutors say they cannot reopen the case because Mr Zardari has legal immunity as a head of state.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says the amnesty law was negotiated with then President Musharraf by Benazir Bhutto in 2007 before her arrival in the country for an election campaign.

The aim was to allow the withdrawal of cases against herself, her husband and other party leaders which were allegedly politically motivated.

Tensions between the Supreme Court and Mr Zardari's government over the issue have risen in recent months.

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