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Pak links Bhutto to oil-for-food scam

By K J M Varma in Islamabad
April 07, 2006 15:23 IST
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Pakistan's anti-corruption bureau on Thursday alleged that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's involvement in the United Nations oil-for-food scandal in Iraq.

"Bhutto gave a two-million-dollar commission to the regime of Saddam Hussein to win contracts worth $115 million through two Sharjah-based companies she registered in 2000 and 2001," Hassan Waseem Afzal, Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau alleged.

He also released documents suggesting Bhutto's connections with international companies involved in the scam and facing prosecution in their countries.

Bhutto's spokesman, Faratullah Babar rejected the allegations saying it was part of Pakistan government's smear campaign against Bhutto, who headed the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, from Dubai.

During the last decade, the NAB has been desperate to link Bhutto with corruption but it 'failed miserably', Babar said in statement.

Afzal said NAB began suspecting Bhutto's involvement in the scam after the UN inquiry report into the scandal.

Afzal said Bhutto, her aides -- Rehman Malik, former Federal Investigation Agency's additional director and her nephew Hassan Ali Jaffery -- own Petroline FZC, a Sharjah-based company involved in the scam.

"The Pakistan government will prosecute these three Pakistanis under UN guidelines," he said.

The second company, Tempo Global Gains FZC, is owned by Bhutto and her three children, Afzal claimed.

This company appears to be the ultimate destination of all money siphoned off by Benazir and her aides," he said, adding that the NAB would ask the UAE to freeze these companies' accounts.

Afzal said a report sent by Spanish authorities investigating Bhutto's bank accounts in Spain showed that she had "received money" from banks in Switzerland, the UK and US and companies involved in the oil-for-food scam.

NAB would also ask Washington to freeze Bhutto's accounts in the City National Bank, Florida, he said.

Countering the charges, Bhutto's spokesman said the PPP leader is a 'person of means who has inherited from her father property and assets and has never denied ownership of legal assets abroad'.

'It is for the regime to prove that she has acquired anything from alleged corrupt practices. The regime has failed in its bid as has been proved in the verdict of the Isle of Man.

'The scandalisation of legitimate businesses is but a pretext to punish through judicial abuse a symbol of the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan,' he said.

The latest "smear campaign" is aimed at character assassination should be seen in the backdrop of a series of judicial victories for Bhutto and her spouse, he said.

'Owning companies or doing business in foreign countries is legitimate as long the money involved is not derived from corrupt practices. Companies associated with Bhutto have nothing to do either with the government or abuse of office,' he said.

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K J M Varma in Islamabad
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