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Pakistani court drops 5 corruption cases against Bhuttos widower
Pakistan KAR101 5630063
President of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association and a prominent opposition lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, center, is greeted by lawyers upon his arrival at city courts to address a lawyers gathering in Karachi, Pakistan on Wednesday, March 5, 2008. Ahsan announced that lawyers will hold fresh protests to pressure the country's President Pervez Musharraf to reinstate independent-minded judges that he fired during a state of emergency. - photo by Associated Press
    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani court on Wednesday dropped five corruption cases against a leader of the opposition party that won last month’s parliamentary elections.
    Asif Ali Zardari, the party’s co-chairman, is the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He became known among Pakistanis by the nickname ‘‘Mr. Ten Percent’’ for allegedly pocketing kickbacks during the 1990s when his wife was in office.
    He spent years in jail without being convicted and insists the charges were politically motivated. Now, Bhutto’s assassination in December and his takeover of the party have made him a key figure in Pakistan’s move back toward democracy after years of military rule.
    An anti-corruption court in Rawalpindi ordered prosecutors to terminate five long-standing cases against Zardari.
    ‘‘He has been acquitted,’’ said Farooq Naek, Zardari’s attorney.
    Pakistan’s Supreme Court made Wednesday’s ruling possible by lifting a stay on President Pervez Musharraf’s National Reconciliation Ordinance. That order instructed courts to dismiss corruption cases against politicians and bureaucrats dating from before Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup.
    The allegations against Zardari included illegal payments relating the construction of a polo ground inside the prime minister’s residence and to the purchase of thousands of Polish tractors.
    There are two other outstanding corruption cases against Zardari in Pakistan, which Naek and government prosecutor Zulfikar Ahmad Bhutta said would likely be dropped next week. A money-laundering case is still pending against Zardari in Switzerland.
    Bhutta said businesses, a bulletproof limousine and other property taken in the cases would be returned immediately to Zardari.
    Zardari’s return is eyed with suspicion by many Pakistanis who see him as a symbol of a decade of corruption and misrule that nearly bankrupted Pakistan.
    Bhutto’s party came in first in last month’s parliamentary elections, routing Musharraf’s supporters and triggering calls for the president to step down.
    But Zardari and his party appear to be more conciliatory toward Musharraf than some of the other opposition parties expected to form a coalition government.
    Naek praised the Supreme Court for reviving the reconciliation ordinance, even though the court was purged by Musharraf when he declared emergency rule last November.
    Asked whether the end of the corruption cases made it easier for the party to work with Musharraf, Naek said: ‘‘We do not believe in politics of revenge, and we believe that there should be coexistence between democratic forces.’’
    Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Lahore and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.

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