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Court Freezes Pakistan PM’s Assets

April 27, 1998

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani courts froze hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property, bank accounts and businesses Monday that belonged to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband, mother and friends.

Two separate panels of judges _ in Lahore and in Rawalpindi _ froze the assets while the government continues its investigation into allegations of corruption against Ms. Bhutto and her family.

Ms. Bhutto was dismissed from power in 1996 on charges that she sanctioned police hit squads, mismanaged the economy and robbed the public treasury of millions.

The courts ordered Ms. Bhutto to appear next month, which is when she will have an opportunity to argue against the decisions to freeze her assets.

Ms. Bhutto has repeatedly denied her guilt.

Announcing the court decisions at a news conference in Islamabad, Senator Saif-ur Rehman _ the government’s anti-corruption investigator _ said the rulings refuted accusations by Ms. Bhutto that she was the target of a government-orchestrated witch hunt.

``Judges in Pakistan have looked at the evidence and come to an independent decision,″ he said.

Rehman, a lawmaker with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, said the judgments also showed there was no ``media trial″ of Ms. Bhutto.

The judgments by special corruption courts also ordered the assets of Ms. Bhutto’s jailed husband, Asif Ali Zardari, the couple’s associates, and Ms. Bhutto’s mother, Nusrat Bhutto, be frozen. That includes five sugar mills, 20 bank accounts and several hundred properties.

Rehman said investigators found evidence of a chain of off-shore companies used by Ms. Bhutto to funnel proceeds from kickbacks and bribes out of Pakistan.

A series of bank accounts linked to Ms. Bhutto and her husband in Switzerland were frozen by Swiss authorities last year. A judge in Britain is examining a request for freezing bank accounts in London.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who succeeded Ms. Bhutto, established the commission to investigate corruption.

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