Apr 30, 2011

Prime crime

A listing of prime ministers who took the law into their hands, or so they were accused of

By Sabir Shah

During the last nine decades, at least 22 prime ministers all over the world have been found guilty of committing various crimes, leading to their conviction by courts. The list of 22 convicted prime ministers also includes three Pakistani heads of government.

An in-depth research conducted by The News in this context shows that nine of these convicted prime ministers, including Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, were awarded capital punishment. Of these nine executed prime ministers, four hailed from Hungary alone.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was removed from office through a coup by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977. While General Zia appointed himself as Chief Martial Law Administrator, Bhutto was shifted to Central Jail Rawalpindi. Arrested on September 3, 1977, Bhutto was charged with conspiracy to murder Nawab Kasuri on November 11, 1974.

On September 13, Bhutto was granted bail by Justice Samdani of the Lahore High Court, but within three days his bail was cancelled. On the night of September 16, he was again apprehended by army commandoes and bundled out to Sukkur jail. Bhutto’s trial commenced on October 24, 1977 and on March 18, 1978, he was sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court, as the arbiters had found the dethroned premier guilty of orchestrating Nawab Kasuri’s murder.

After Justice Qaiser Khan retired from service and Justice Wahiduddin fell sick, the number of Supreme Court judges was reduced to seven and this bench of Supreme Court endorsed the Lahore High Court decision upon appeal, by a margin of 4 to 3 in February 1979. Bhutto was finally executed in April 1979.

Bhutto’s daughter, and another Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was convicted in 1999 for not appearing in court, though the Supreme Court later overturned that judgment. Benazir and her husband Asif Ali Zardari were sentenced to a five-year prison, fined $8.6 million and disqualified from parliament for seven years by an Accountability Bench of the Lahore High Court, for allegedly taking kickbacks from a Swiss firm during Benazir’s second stint in power (1993-96). This decision was overturned by the Supreme Court though.

In July 2002, Benazir was also convicted by Accountability Court in Rawalpindi in the ARY Gold reference. She was sentenced to three years in prison in absentia, along with confiscation of her immovable properties. In August 2003, a Swiss magistrate had found Benazir and her husband guilty of money laundering.

Another former Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for corruption in July 2000. He had also been fined 20 million rupees and barred from holding public office for 21 years. After he was deposed by General Pervez Musharraf on October 1999, Nawaz Sharif was tried for kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking and terrorism. A military court convicted him and awarded him life sentence. On July 17, 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned a hijacking conviction against Nawaz Sharif.

History reveals that prime ministers have been taken on by courts since 1922, though cases of a few like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto have been dubbed ‘judicial murders’ by most historians. Dimitrios Gounaris, the two-time Greek Premier, was executed in November 1922 for treason. As soon as the Greeks were trampled all over by Mustafa Kamal’s forces in 1922, the army of Premier Gounaris staged a revolt against him. The History of Modern Greece by Richard Clogg reveals that Premier Gounaris was tried in courts along with five top aides and was subsequently responsible for the 1922 catastrophe in which Turkey’s Mustafa Kamal had completely trounced the Greek forces.

Former prime minister of Vichy France, Pierre Laval, was arrested, found guilty of treason and executed by firing squad in October 1945. Vichy France is a term that describes the alliance of France with the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan, and Italy) for industrial purposes from July 1940 to August 1944.

Bela Imredy, Prime Minister of Hungary, was arrested and tried by a People’s Tribunal in November 1945. Found guilty of war crimes and collaboration with the Nazis, he was executed by a firing squad at Budapest in 1946, soon after the German forces were driven out of Hungary by the Soviets.

Another Hungarian Premier, Dr Laszlo Bardossy, was also arrested and tried by a People’s Court in November 1945. He, too, was found guilty of war crimes and collaboration with the Nazis, sentenced to death, and executed by firing squad in 1946. Dimitrije Sztojay, who had served as the prime minister of Hungary during World War II, was also executed by a firing squad in Budapest in 1946. He is known to have carried out massive persecutions of Jews, which within two months escalated to the deportations of Jews to concentration camps. Although he was Adolf Hitler’s blue-eyed chum, Germans had to remove him from power corridors on growing demands.

Prime Minister Sztojay had opted to flee Hungary but was captured by American troops and extradited in October 1945. Yet another Hungarian head of government, Imre Nagy, was executed on treason charges in 1958, two years after his non-Soviet-backed government was brought down by Soviet invasion in the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

General Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of Japan, was sentenced to death for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and hanged on December 23, 1948. He had served Japan during much of World War II, from October 1941 to July 1944. Former Turkish Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes, was hanged by his country’s army leadership on September 17, 1961. His government was deposed in May 1960 and Menderes was arrested along with his key aides. He was eventually sent to the gallows.

The 75-year old Italian Premier and country’s biggest media baron, Silvio Berlusconi, has been facing charges ranging from links with mafia, attempts to bribe tax investigators, corruption and his widely-known relationships with actresses and party girls.

According to a BBC report of July 8, 1998, Berlusconi was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison by a court in Milan, adding that he would not face jail until a lengthy appeal process was exhausted. Just a week later, he was again convicted of illegally channeling $12 million in campaign contributions to former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi’s now defunct Socialist Party. He was sentenced to two years and four months in jail and fined $5.6 million. Though the Italian parliament had passed a law granting immunity to the premier in 2008 from all sorts of prosecution, the country’s Constitutional Court had lifted the immunity in October 2009. It was this particular decision that had paved the way for a resumption of Berlusconi’s trial in underage sex charges.

A former caretaker Prime Minister of Rwanda, Jean Kambanda, was sent behind bars for life by his country’s court on September 4, 1998 on charges of playing a key role in the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994. Kambanda was arrested in Nairobi on July 18, 1997 and was accused of distributing ammunition with the knowledge that they would be used to massacre civilians.

Thailand’s former premier, Samak Sundaravej, was found guilty by a Thai court in September 2009 for hosting paid cooking shows on television against the constitution; just months after a group of 29 Thai senators had charged Samak with violating the country’s charter.

In November 2002, an Italian court convicted former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, and sentenced him to 24 years in prison for ordering the 1979 murder of muckraking journalist Mino Pecorelli. According to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the murdered journalist was preparing to publish compromising information about seven-time Italian Prime Minister Andreotti when he was gunned down on March 20, 1979. Former Ukrainian Premier, Pavel Lazarenko, was convicted in August 2006 and sentenced to a nine-year prison term in the US for laundering money. In December 1998, Lazarenko was detained on money-laundering charges as he crossed by car from France into Switzerland.

According to a Reuters report of November 2009, "A former Ukrainian Prime Minister, who fled his country after losing a power struggle, won an 11-month reduction (on November 19, 2009) in his nine-year prison term for laundering more than $20 million through US banks, but failed to persuade a San Francisco federal judge to throw his sentence out."

Former Indian Premier, Narasimha Rao, was alleged to have bribed members of a breakaway faction of a political party called the Janata Dal in 1993 to side with him, when his government was facing a no-confidence motion. In 1996, the probe began, and in 2000 the court convicted Narasimha Rao and his colleague, Buta Singh. However, Rao remained free on bail. He was acquitted of all corruption charges in 2002 due to lack of evidence.

Former French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, was convicted in Paris on corruption charges in 2004. He was awarded an 18-month long suspended jail sentence and loss of civic rights for five years, which automatically barred him from holding or running for public office for 10 years. In October 2008, another former Thai head of government, Thaksin Shinawatra, was served a conviction order in absentia from the court on charges of corruption. Thaksin was sentenced to two years imprisonment, but remains a fugitive till date.

Sir Allan Kemakaza, former Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, was convicted of demanding money with menace, intimidation and larceny in November 2007. Kemakaza eventually had to serve a five-month prison sentence in 2008. This is what Radio New Zealand had to say after Allan had won the November 2009 polls, "A former Prime Minister in Solomon Islands, Allan Kemakeza, has retained his constituency’s seat in parliament after winning last week’s by-election by a comfortable margin."

The two-time former Japanese Premier, Kakuei Tanaka, was found guilty by a Tokyo court on October 12, 1983 for violations of foreign exchange control laws in connection with the Lockheed scam, and was sentenced to four years in prison. However, Tanaka remained free on appeal until his death in 1993. Tanaka was arrested on July 27, 1976 and was released in August on a US $690,000 surety bond. His arrest came after the vice-chairman of Lockheed had told the US Senate subcommittee on February 6, 1976 that Messrs Lockheed had paid approximately $3 million in bribes to the office of Prime Minister Tanaka for its help in the matter.

Former Ethiopian Prime Minister, Tamerat Layne, was convicted by the Ethiopian Supreme Court in 2000 for a prison term of 18 years. According to a BBC report of December 2008, "He was released in 2008 after spending 12 years in prison for corruption and abuse of power."

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