Bhutto: pounds 1bn in bank is not mine

Arifa Akbar@arifa_akbar
Saturday 11 October 1997 23:02

Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, yesterday denied for the first time that Swiss bank accounts, frozen last month on suspicion that they contained illegally obtained funds, belonged either to her or her husband.

The Pakistani government announced on 15 September that the Swiss had agreed to freeze the funds for three months, pending the production of evidence of criminality. Government sources spoke of the accounts containing between $50m and $180m (pounds 30m-pounds 110m), and of other accounts in nine countries in the name of Ms Bhutto, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and other relatives containing as much as $1.6bn.

But yesterday, she stated that they were not connected to her. "The accounts are not my accounts," she said, although she declined to expand, saying she did not want "trial by soundbite" and would save her explanation for the courtroom. She has yet to be charged with any offence.

Since being dismissed as prime minister last November, she has had a harrowing 12 months. In February her Pakistan People's Party lost the general election by a landslide. Her husband has been held in solitary confinement all year on charges of murdering his wife's younger brother, Murtaza; recently a second murder charge was added. Then the government announced the freezing of the Swiss accounts.

Speaking in her heavily fortified villa in Karachi, Ms Bhutto denied all wrong-doing. Because of her previous dismissal as prime minister in 1990, she said, she was "very careful not to get involved" in any decisions involving foreign investment. Many blame her husband for the air of corruption that hung over her administration, and Ms Bhutto reinforced that impression: "He was not familiar with the mechanics of power. He made mistakes - he could never close his door, he always wanted to help people."

Her serene manner, following her radiant appearance at the banquet for the Queen in Islamabad on Wednesday, suggests she could be on the verge of another comeback: her support in her home state of Sind remains huge. "Just when you think the Bhutto clan are down, they've got this phoenix- like way of coming back," says one prominent journalist.

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