April 17, 2008 / 2:01 PM / 10 years ago

Pakistan court acquits Bhutto's widower in second murder case

HYDERABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani court acquitted Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, in the murder of a civil servant in 1997, his lawyer said on Thursday, the second such exoneration for Zardari this month.

On April 9, Zardari was acquitted in the 1996 murder of Bhutto’s estranged brother, Murtaza.

Pakistani courts in recent weeks have also quashed a raft of corruption charges against Zardari, under a law introduced by President Pervez Musharraf granting amnesty to politicians and other public figures.

The dropping of the cases has raised speculation that Zardari could contest a by-election as a step towards becoming prime minister but he has shown no current interest in a parliamentary seat, and last month nominated a close aide of his deceased wife as prime minister.

Zardari, who became the political successor to his wife after her death, led her Pakistan People’s Party to victory in February 18 elections.

He had spent 11 years in jail awaiting trial for charges of corruption and the murders of the civil servant, Alam Balouch, and his brother-in-law, Murtaza, but was never convicted. He has long denied the charges.

On Wednesday, a court in the southern city of Hyderabad acquitted him in the murder of Balouch in 1997.

“We argued that it has been 11 years since this case was framed but the prosecution has not been able to produce strong evidence against Asif Zardari” his lawyer Yousaf Leghari told Reuters.

Bhutto, a two-time prime minister, also faced corruption cases which were dropped after her assassination in a gun and bomb attack on December 27.

Reporting by Hamid Sheikh; writing by Aftab Borka; Editing by Zeeshan Haider and Valerie Lee

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