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Legal Barriers Removed for Bhutto Widower to Hold Office in Pakistan

By Steve Herman
Karachi
14 March 2008

The husband of the late former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, has cleared another hurdle that could help him catapult his way into the job once held by his late wife. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Karachi.

The co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Asif Ali Zardari, has had the last outstanding domestic corruption charge against him removed. That case related to importing a German-made luxury car without paying a duty.

Pakistani courts earlier this month had quashed six other graft cases against the prominent businessman. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, in a reconciliation deal last year, agreed that six other graft charges against her husband would be dismissed by the government.

The end of the court proceedings eliminates one of the legal issues that have thrreatened to block Zardari from holding government office and following in the footsteps of his assassinated wife and her father, who was ousted by a military coupe and hanged.

Zardari's attorney, Farooq Naek, told reporters in Rawalpindi Friday other pending cases against Zardari overseas, instigated by the anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau, will now have to be dropped.

"The High Court of Sindh at Karachi has given an order to the Attorney General of Pakistan, as well as the NAB authorities, to withdraw the proceedings which are pending in London, as well as Geneva. And they have got to do it before the 21st of this month," said Naek. "Failing thereof they will be liable for contempt and disobedience of the court."

Both Zaradari and the late Mrs. Bhutto had also faced corruption charges in Switzerland and Spain. Their supporters have long contended the string of cases was politically motivated.

Zardari served as a government minister in his wife's second administration. He spent more than eight years in jail on various charges but was never convicted.

Not long ago, Zardari expressed little interest in becoming prime minister. Now he is touted as the top contender to take the post in several months. His party, known as the PPP, topped all other parties in last month's parliamentary elections. It then reached a power-sharing agreement with the runner-up Muslim League faction of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Under that pact, the PPP is to nominate the prime minister.

Zardari, who did not stand for election in the February polls, is expected to contest a parliamentary by-election in May that would make him eligible to become prime minister.

The National Assembly convenes in Islamabad on Monday. The PPP is expected to put forward an interim candidate who could end up serving only a short while until Zardari can step in.

Zardari's wife was killed following a political rally on December 27. At the time, she was the front-runner to reclaim her old job.

The election results last month demonstrated how unpopular the former general has become. The slate of candidates backing Mr. Musharraf was trounced.

Zardari, however, is also viewed as a troubling figure by many Pakistanis. During the Benazir Bhutto era, he earned the nickname of "Mr. Ten Percent" for allegedly taking kickbacks during an administration in the 1990's that nearly bankrupted the country.



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