Pakistan's President Could Face Corruption Charges

Supreme Court orders hearing on petitions challenging amnesty shielding President Zardari and other senior officials from possible corruption charges

Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered a hearing on petitions challenging an amnesty granted two years ago that has shielded President Asif Ali Zardari and other senior officials from possible corruption charges.

Former President Pervez Musharraf ordered the amnesty, in part, to lift pending corruption charges against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and allow her to return to the country from exile.  The immunity order covered about 8,000 people, but it expired three days ago on Saturday.

The federal court set a December 7 date to begin hearing petitions.

Ms. Bhutto returned to Pakistan after the amnesty to resume her political career, but she was assassinated a short time later.  Her husband, a businessman who had been imprisoned in the past on corruption charges, subsequently became Pakistan's president, after General Musharraf stepped down.  

Corruption allegations have swirled around Mr. Zardari, but he is immune from prosecution as president.  Some legal experts expect the petitions before the Supreme Court will seek to revoke his immunity, or try to have him removed from office.  Other analysts warn of possible political chaos if corruption charges are reopened against those close to the president.

The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Mr. Musharraf's amnesty order must expire at the end of November unless parliament approved an extension.  Resistance by opposition lawmakers doomed the government's effort to win a parliamentary vote to continue the amnesty.

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