Graft cases hound Sharif

Islamabad, September 2:

Pakistani prosecutors said today they were pressing ahead with corruption cases against opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in a move his lawyer called politically motivated as the presidential race grew increasingly testy. Asif Ali Zardari, head of the main ruling party and widower of slain ex-Premier Benazir Bhutto, is expected to easily capture lawmakers’ votes for president on Saturday. Sharif’s party is fielding a retired judge as its candidate.

The election and surrounding political manoeuvring are being watched carefully by the US, which considers Pakistan’s cooperation critical in the war on terror.

In mid-August, longtime US ally Pervez Musharraf was forced to quit the presidency by a united ruling coalition that included Sharif’s party. Sharif switched to the opposition after disputes with Zardari over who should succeed Musharraf and how to restore judges the former president sacked last year.

Both Zardari and Sharif have been saddled with corruption allegations over the years, but Zardari has seen cases against him vanish in recent months, thanks in large part to a deal struck with Musharraf to pave the way for Bhutto’s return to the country.

Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta, a top prosecutor with the National Accountability Bureau, confirmed today that it moved late last month to challenge a court decision to indefinitely adjourn a set of cases against Sharif, also a former prime minister.

The cases stretch back for years, and their accusations against Sharif include money laundering, loan defaults and accumulation of wealth beyond his known sources of income.

“It appears to be aimed at using the accountability courts against Nawaz Sharif,” said the opposition leader’s lawyer, Khwaja Haris. “It appears to be used for political ends.”