RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Thursday declared ex-military leader Pervez Musharraf a fugitive in the murder case of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and acquitted five people in the killing.
As an “absconder”, Musharraf must be arrested and brought to trial if he returns to Pakistan after being allowed to leave the country last year. The court also ordered Musharraf’s property in Pakistan seized.
Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide and gun attack in Rawalpindi in 2007, weeks after she returned from exile to campaign in elections to bring back civilian rule.
Bhutto’s daughter Aseefa Zardari tweeted after the court’s decision that “There will be no justice till Pervez Musharraf answers for his crimes!”
Five accused members of the Pakistani Taliban were found not guilty of any role in the attack due to a lack of evidence.
Special Prosecutor for the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Khawaja Mohammad Imtiaz said he found the acquittal surprising.
“We believe there was a very strong case against them,” he told reporters after the verdict, adding that three of the men had confessed to assisting in the attack.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, now the leader of the slain Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, termed the acquittal “unacceptable” in a tweet, calling the release of the five men dangerous.
Musharraf was charged in 2013 with being culpable in Bhutto’s murder. He seized power in a 1999 coup but stepped down nine years later after new elections.
He is now in self-imposed exile, having been allowed to leave the country in 2016 for health reasons.
The court found two police officials guilty in the case, one of mishandling security at the Bhutto rally and the other of mishandling the crime scene. Each was jailed for 17 years.
Imtiaz said that one of the officials oversaw a “deliberate security lapse” while the other had the crime scene washed within two hours of the assassination to “erase evidence” and delayed Bhutto’s postmortem.
Bhutto was assassinated shortly after leaving an election rally, where she spoke of threats to her life. She stood up to wave to supporters from the sun-roof of her bullet-proof vehicle when the attacker fired shots at her before blowing himself up.
Bhutto was pronounced dead in a hospital in Rawalpindi, headquarters of the Pakistan Army and the same city in which her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister, was hanged in 1979 after being deposed in a military coup.
Additional reporting by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Ralph Boulton
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.