Pronouncing verdict in the 13-year old reference, first filed in 1998 popularly known as the SGS case, the Accountability Court Rawalpindi Judge Mian Altaf Hussain Mahar on Saturday acquitted the accused under trial declaring also that there was no substance in the prosecution tale and it had failed to prove its case. The court in its 35 page judgment referred to the statements of various prosecution witnesses and the arguments of defence counsel Muhammad Arshad Tabrez and said that the pre-shipment scheme and the award of contract to SGS and Cotecna had brought in additional 27 billion rupees in national exchequer.
Indeed for each dollar paid by the government to the companies the government benefited by nearly seven dollars in additional revenue. The pre-shipment inspection scheme also curtailed corruption in the customs department, it said.
Ex-Chairman Board of Revenue A.R Siddiqui was the accused while former federal minister Asif Ali Zardari who was also nominated in the case had been granted immunity from appearance before the court under Article 248 (2) of the Constitution, being the President.
The court also acquitted the accused under trial in the ARY case that included Salman Farooqui presently Secretary General to the President, former Secretary Aslam Hayat Qureshi and Haji Abdurazzaq Yaqub besides others.
The court observed that it is quite clear that the implementation of PSI Scheme and contract with SGS was not adverse to the interest of the nation and it benefited the national exchequer.
Referring to the statements of the witnesses the court said that neither Asif Ali Zardari nor Shaheed Mohtarma Bhutto had exercised any pressure for award of SGS contract.
The defence counsel Muhammad Arshad Tabrez had argued that there was practically no evidence against the accused and that none of the prosecution witness had made any statement that the accused or co-accused had received any commissions and kickbacks.
The story of the prosecution on kickbacks and their deposit in the Geneva Bank has been falsified through the statement of prosecution witnesses 13 and 16, it said.
The court referred to the admission of the prosecution witness 13, also the Investigation Officer in the case, that the documents sent by the then Attorney General of Pakistan to Switzerland were placed at the record of Investigating Magistrate and later on these Photostat copies were found by the Commission as bogus documents.
Both prosecution witnesses 13 and 16 also stated that all the proceeding initiated on bogus documents in Switzerland had been closed.
The prosecution witness also admitted the defence version that relationship of the principal accused with foreign companies had not been established.
The defence council argued that none of the prosecution witnesses had claimed that the accused A.R. Siddiqui, Asif Ali Zardari or any other co-accused had received any illegal gratification from the PSI companies.
The prosecution witness also admitted that the pre-shipment scheme was first introduced in Pakistan in 1990 and similar draft agreement was prepared during the government of Mian Nawaz Sharif but was not executed.
The court noted that the investigation officer (prosecution witness 13) has admitted that he had not come across any evidence showing that Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari and A. R. Siddiqui had collaborated and abused their authority in awarding the contract.
It said that not an iota of reliable and admissible evidence has come on record to prove allegation that M/s SGS had given kickbacks/commission to Asif Ali Zardari. PW13 the I.O. has also admitted that Asif Ali Zardari had no concern with bank account in Geneva relating to the offshore companies.
Neither the alleged relationship of Jens Scliglimilch with Asif Ali Zardari as his agent nor the relationship of Asif Ali Zardari with offshore companies has been proved. Statement of PW16 and PW17 is of such an explaining nature that they have totally exonerated the accused A.R. Siddiqui and Asif Ali Zardari and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the judge said.
The verdict said that there is sufficient material on record to believe that idea of pre-shipment scheme was not floated for the first time in 1994 but that even in 1990 the SGS was selected for the award of contract through international bidding.
The court verdict also referred to the statement of prosecution witness 13 admitting that there was no evidence that Jens Scilglmilch was agent of Asif Zardari nor that Asif Ali Zardari had anything to do with account No. 552343 in Union Bank of Switzerland.
According to statement of PW13 relationship of Asif Ali Zardari and A. R. Siddiqui with foreign companies as claimed by the prosecution was not proved by any document, it said.
Commenting on the court verdict Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that it proved once and for all the contention of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto that the SGS was a politically motivated case aimed at keeping her out of politics and punishing Asif Ali Zardari for being her spouse.
He said that Shaheed Mohtarma had always rejected the allegations that the companies or accounts of those companies belonged to her.
Farhatullah Babar recalled her statement before the Investigation Magistrate in Geneva in 2005 in which she had stated that the pre-shipment inspection contract was awarded in a transparent manner and that the contract stood on its own merit citing also the report of the auditors showing that Pakistan had gained with the contract.
More than half a decade after deposition before the Swiss Magistrate the accountability court has vindicated her.
Farhatullah Babar also recalled the discovery of the tape transcripts in 2001 that proved that the sentencing order had been written by the prosecution for the Judge to sign.
The Supreme Court overturned the sentence on appeal due to the ‘bias of the trial judge’. This resulted in the resignation of two judges from the Bench.
The Supreme Court’s ruling as well as tapes of conversation between the trial judge, Minister of Law, the then Chief Justice Lahore High Court and the NAB prosecutors proved beyond doubt a conspiracy to murder justice with the victim as the Muslim World’s first elected Chief Executive Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
The verdict shows how allegations based on bogus documents, followed by inquiries, regurgitating allegations and orchestrated media trials is the stuff by which anti people forces have all along sought to eliminate Bhuttos and keep them away from the people of Pakistan.