Pakistan’s Bhutto Gets Jail Term
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ A Pakistani court today found former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto guilty of corruption and sentenced her to five years in jail, the state-run news agency reported.
Bhutto was also fined $8.6 million and disqualified from politics, the Associated Press of Pakistan said.
Both Bhutto and her imprisoned husband, Asif Ali Zardari, were convicted of taking kickbacks on government contracts. Asif also received a five-year jail sentence.
``What (the judge) has done against me is a crime,″ Ms. Bhutto said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. in Britain.
Saying she believed the government would arrest her upon her return to Pakistan within the next week, Ms. Bhutto said it would only strengthen her Pakistan People’s Party.
``They want to eliminate me from politics ... (but it will) make the Pakistan People’s Party workers even more determined to overcome the odds and succeed,″ she said in the BBC television interview.
Ms. Bhutto is expected to appeal her conviction by the Rawalpindi branch of the Lahore High Court.
At home in Pakistan, her supporters were outraged by the conviction and sentence.
``It is totally unfair and the murder of a trial,″ said Naeed Khan, Ms. Bhutto’s close personal friend and party worker.
Ms. Bhutto was abruptly dismissed from power in 1996 on charges of rampant corruption, economic incompetence and sanctioning police hit squads in her home town of Karachi in southern Sindh province.
In recent weeks, Ms. Bhutto has held several news conferences to complain she was not receiving a fair trial. She accused the judge of being biased against her and denying her lawyers an opportunity to present her defense.
She took her complaint to the Supreme Court, which ordered the lower court to hear Ms. Bhutto’s defense. Ms. Bhutto also complained that she and her lawyers have been harassed by police and intelligence agents and that her car was routinely searched.
The government denies the charges.
Her husband, who has been criticized even by her supporters as corrupt, has been in jail since Ms. Bhutto’s government was dismissed.
Ms. Bhutto, who had been the first and only female prime minister of the country, faces five other charges of corruption, all stemming from her term in office.
Ms. Bhutto’s earlier term in power also came to a sudden end in August 1990 after only 20 months. Then too, Ms. Bhutto and her husband were charged with abusing their power, corruption and economic mismanagement. No charges were ever proven.
Party workers were being mobilized to demonstrate against the verdict, said Wasif Syed, a worker for Ms. Bhutto’s party.
``People from every city will come out on the street to demonstrate,″ he said.