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6 February 1997 Edition

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Pakistan's penniless millionaires


Political elite fights for spoils of corruption

By Dara MacNeil

You can't but feel sympathy for Benazir Bhutto, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif. Having given selflessly of themselves for the good of their native Pakistan all have suffered as a result.

Last November, Ms Bhutto - head of the Pakistan People's Party - was dismissed as Prime Minister on charges of corruption and human rights abuses. Her banishment from power precipitated national elections, which took place on 3 February.

Curiously, this was the fourth time in eight years that the country has gone to the polls. More curious is the fact that the three previous elections resulted from government dismissals, also on charges of corruption and related matters.

Benazir clearly sensed an ungrateful country turning against her when, a week prior to polling, she issued what amounted to a barely-veiled ultimatum. Either the election results accorded with the private polls conducted by her party, or she would not accept them: ``If the results are as our analysis shows....we will accept the results. If not, we won't.'' National polls had showed her heading for electoral disaster.

In the event, Pakistan's 56 million eligible voters responded by ignoring Bhutto's crude efforts at intimidation and stayed away from the polls in droves - less than 14 million voted. Bhutto, a member of a political dynasty that has dominated the country's political life for thirty years, now faces obscurity and the potential ignominy of being hauled before the courts.

Another victim of selfless dedication to his fellow citizens is Imran Khan. Once the darling of the cricketing world, Khan returned to Pakistan recently, vowing to end corruption in the country.

In the event, so few voters cast their ballot in Imran's favour that he barely registered on the electoral graph.

In electoral terms, the clear winner was Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League. He too is dedicated to ending corruption. Nonetheless, Sharif's electoral success had its downside. Although his Muslim League won an overall majority in the parliament, it is not yet clear just how many of his colleagues will actually take their seats.

There are currently hundreds of Pakistan's businessmen, civil servants and politicians facing charges of corruption. An estimated 60 names are added to the `list of shame' daily. Many are members, or supporters either of Bhutto's or Sharif's parties. Any politican found guilty will be barred from sitting in parliament.

More curiously, Mr Sharif's foray into politics seems to have transformed him from a wealthy man into a pauper.

In keeping with the `corruption' theme all candidates were required to make public all financial assets they owned.

Sharif stunned one and all by claiming his entire worldly possessions amounted to a bank balance of £85. Coincidentally, his wife and family are worth in excess of £14 million.

The same `pauperising' effect was also felt by Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan. Bhutto - the product of one of the country's largest landowning families - claimed her assets amounted to a modest bungalow worth just £1,600.

Khan - himself the son of wealthy parents - appears to have been hardest hit by this selfless foray into politics. He declared his income over the previous year to have been so low that he was not required to pay tax.

His wife - Jemima Goldsmith - was found to possess neither cash nor jewellery. Her father is Sir James Goldsmith, the unhinged billionaire who finances and leads the anti-EU Referendum Party in Britain. Equally, both the pauper Khans are well-acquainted with Britain's royals, particularly the Artist formerly known as HRH Princess Diana.

Khan, Bhutto and Sharif are all established members of Pakistan's ruling class, part of the tiny elite which runs the country in a semi-feudal fashion and has enriched itself handsomely at its expense.

Most Pakistanis appear to have seen the recent sham election for what it really was: a fight to gain control of the trough of public money. For example, 33 local officials were recently found sharing a fleet of 900 cars between them - all financed and run by public money.

But most shocking of all is the revelation that in the last three years alone, well over £60 billion has disappeared from the public purse, all of it siphoned off by corrupt officials and politicians.

Shady deals in Serbia

Speaking of shady finances, it seems Douglas Hurd's employers in Natwest bank may be regretting their decision to employ the former Foreign Secretary and his minion, Dame Pauline Neville Jones. Having successfully defended Serbia on the international stage while in office - opposing sanctions on Belgrade and the arming of its outgunned Bosnian opponents - both Hurd and Jones went on to take up employment with Natwest in 1995.

Surprise, surprise, very quickly thereafter Natwest secured lucrative contracts with the Belgrade regime, the acquisition of which was attributed to Hurd and Jones.

The decision to do business with Belgrade would have been based largely on Hurd and Jones' confidence in the Serbian regime - precisely what the duo were brought in to advise on.

But longrunning street protests have upset that calculation and Natwest have been forced to pull out of one contract, as foreign debt consultants to the Belgrade regime. The company is to retain its contract for the privatisation of Serbia's phone company.

Still, a mite embarrassing for Douglas and Jones who may yet find themselves signing on if the Milosevic regime collapses.

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