“Mr. Ten Percent:” Bhutto’s Party Picks Her Widower, Son as Successor

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Here’s the NY Times ten years ago, on January 8, 1998, on the alleged extraordinary corruption of Benazir Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, named today as the caretaker co-chair of the Pakistan People’s Party until their 19-year-old son Bilawal is old enough to take over.

A decade after she led this impoverished nation from military rule to democracy, Benazir Bhutto is at the heart of a widening corruption inquiry that Pakistani investigators say has traced more than $100 million to foreign bank accounts and properties controlled by Ms. Bhutto’s family.

Starting from a cache of Bhutto family documents bought for $1 million from a shadowy intermediary, the investigators have detailed a pattern of secret payments by foreign companies that sought favors during Ms. Bhutto’s two terms as Prime Minister.

The documents leave uncertain the degree of involvement by Ms. Bhutto, a Harvard graduate whose rise to power in 1988 made her the first woman to lead a Muslim country. But they trace the pervasive role of her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who turned his marriage to Ms. Bhutto into a source of virtually unchallengeable power.

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, Nusrat.

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 jewelry 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, a nation so poor that perhaps 70 percent of its 130 million people are illiterate, and millions have no proper shelter, no schools, no hospitals, not even safe drinking water. During Ms. Bhutto’s 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. …

The documents [obtained by the NYT] included: statements for several accounts in Switzerland, including the Citibank accounts in Dubai and Geneva; letters from executives promising payoffs, with details of the percentage payments to be made; memorandums detailing meetings at which these “commissions” and “remunerations” were agreed on, and certificates incorporating the offshore companies used as fronts in the deals, many registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The documents also revealed the crucial role played by Western institutions. Apart from the companies that made payoffs, and the network of banks that handled the money — which included Barclay’s Bank and Union Bank of Switzerland as well as Citibank — the arrangements made by the Bhutto family for their wealth relied on Western property companies, Western lawyers and a network of Western friends…..

“Mr. 10% running it until the boy king comes of age,” notes a former US official who served in Pakistan. “So much for democracy.”

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