A Balochi from a tribe based in Sindh, Zardari rose to prominence after his marriage to Bhutto in 1987. Zardari became widely known as “Mr. 10 Percent” during the premierships of Bhutto because of his alleged role in obtaining kickbacks as an intermediary in government deals. His political career has been mired in corruption allegations, for which he was imprisoned from 1990 to 1993 and from 1996 to 2004.
Early life and education
Zardari’s academic background remains a question mark. He received his primary education from Karachi Grammar School. His official biography says he graduated from Cadet College, Petaro in 1972. He went to St Patrick’s High School, Karachi from 1973–74; a school clerk says he failed his final examination there. In March 2008, he claimed he had graduated from the London School of Business Studies with a bachelor of education degree in the early 1970s.. Zardari’s official biography states he also attended Pedinton School in Britain. His British education, however, has not been confirmed, and a search did not turn up any Pedinton School in London. The issue of his diploma was contentious because a 2002 rule required candidates for Parliament to hold a college degree, but the rule was overturned by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in April 2008.
A major report was published in January 1998 by The New York Times detailing Zardari’s vast corruption and misuse of public funds. The report discussed $200 million in kickbacks to Zardari and a Pakistani partner for a $4 billion contract with French military contractor Dassault Aviation, in a deal that fell apart only when the Bhutto government was dismissed. It contained details of two payments of $5 million each by a gold bullion dealer in return for a monopoly on gold imports.
Second imprisonment and conviction
In March 1997, Zardari was elected to the Senate while in a Karachi jail. In December 1997, he was flown to Islamabad under tight security to take his oath.
In July 1998, he was indicted for corruption in Pakistan after the Swiss government handed over documents to Pakistani authorities relating to money laundering. The Swiss had also indicted him for money laundering. At the same time, in a separate case, he and 18 others were indicted for conspiracy to murder Murtaza Bhutto. After criminal prosecutions began, Citibank closed Zardari’s account.
In April 1999, Bhutto and Zardari were convicted for receiving indemnities from a Swiss goods inspection company that was hired to end corruption in the collection of customs duties. The couple received a fine of $8.6 million. The evidence used against them had been gathered by Swiss investigators and the Pakistani Bureau of Accountability.
In May 1999, he was hospitalized after an alleged attempted suicide. He claimed it was a murder attempt by the police.
In November 2004, he was released on bail by court order. A month later, he was unexpectedly arrested for failing to show up for a hearing on a murder case in Islamabad. He was placed under house arrest in Karachi. A day later, he was released on $5,000 bail. His release, rearrest, and then release again was regarded as a sign of growing reconciliation between Musharraf’s government and the PPP. After his second release in late 2004, he left for exile in Dubai.
Exile and legal problems
In September 2005, he did not show up for a Rawalpindi hearing on corruption charges; the court issued an arrest warrant. His lawyers stated he could not come because he was recovering from his treatment. Following a request by the Rawalpindi court, Interpol issued a red notice in January 2006 against the couple which called on member nations to decide on the couple’s extradition.
From 14 to 17 October 2008, he was in China to negotiate foreign aid, as Pakistan faced the possibility of defaulting on its payments. China refused to offer any aid commitments, but instead promised to provide assistance in the development of two nuclear power plants and more future business investments.
After Saudi Arabia, Britain, China, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates refused to provide
any bailout, he officially asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance in solving Pakistan’s balance of payments problem on 22 October.
He went to Saudi Arabia from 4 to 6 November in hopes of obtaining financial aid and securing trade agreements. Leaked cables revealed increasingly strained relations between Zardari and Saudi royalty, primarily because of Saudi distrust of Zardari and preference for Sharif. Weaker cooperation led to decreased oil subsidies as part of a broader Saudi policy of withholding monetary assistance.
His mental health has been a subject of controversy. He has repeatedly claimed he was tortured while in prison. He was diagnosed with dementia, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder from 2005 to 2007, which helped influence the verdict of one of his corruption trials. He now claims he is completely healthy, with only high blood pressure and diabetes.
In 2005, Daily Pakistan reported he was the second richest man in Pakistan with an estimated net worth of $1.8 billion. He amassed great wealth while his wife was Prime Minister. In 2007, he received $60 million in his Swiss bank account through offshore companies under his name.
Creditors forced a liquidation sale in 2004 and the Pakistani government claimed the proceeds because the home had been bought with money obtained through corruption. However, he stepped in to claim that he actually was the beneficial owner.As of November 2008, the proceeds were in a liquidator bank account while a civil case continues.