News

DATE=11/17/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=PAK / ARRESTS (L-ONLY) (CQ) NUMBER=2-256269 BYLINE=AYAZ GUL DATELINE=ISLAMABAD CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Military authorities in Pakistan on Wednesday began arresting politicians and businessmen who have failed to repay large bank loans by the deadline (November 16) set by the country's military government. Those charged include two former Prime Ministers. As Ayaz Gul reports from the Pakistani capital, the military says the arrests are part of the new government's anti-corruption campaign. TEXT: The nation-wide crackdown on what the military government is calling "willful defaulters" began early Wednesday, just hours after the deadline set by the military expired. A statement issued by the military says authorities arrested 21 people Wednesday, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who "are either big loan defaulters or involved in corruption or corrupt practices." // OPT // Mr. Sharif was already in custody. He has been under detention since last month's military coup. // END OPT // In its statement, the military government describes former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who lives abroad, as "a proclaimed offender." She would be arrested if she re- entered Pakistani territory. After taking power last month, Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, ordered the repayment of overdue state bank loans by November 16th. In a nation-wide address, he pledged his anti-corruption drive would come down hard on those who defaulted on their loans. /// MUSHARRAF ACT /// As a last chance I urge all defaulters to come forth and settle their debts within a period of four weeks, after which their names will be published and the law will take its due course. /// END ACT /// Pakistan's financial institutions are owed billions of dollars in loans. For years, leading politicians and businessmen have borrowed money from banks with little or no collateral. Bankers estimated Wednesday that less than four percent of those billions of dollars of loans have been recovered so far. To provide legal backing for its crackdown on loan defaulters, the military regime has issued an order saying that corrupt practices, including willful defaults on loans, are punishable by up to 14 years in jail. A person convicted under the new law will be disqualified for 21 years from holding public office. Pakistan's military authorities have also stepped up security at airports to prevent loan defaulters from fleeing the country. An Islamabad-based political analyst, Syed Talat Hussain, says the corruption charges against Mr. Sharif and Mrs. Bhutto may be enough to end their political careers. /// HUSSAIN ACT /// By the framing of charges against Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, the military regime seems to be ensuring that their political careers end here now. According to the constitution, any politician who is guilty of committing any wrongdoing can never run for any public office. /// END ACT /// In the past decade, every elected government in Pakistan has been dismissed on charges of corruption and misrule. Observers say one reason the military's crackdown is so popular among the people is that it is targeting political leaders who used their powers to enrich themselves and their families. (Signed) NEB/AG/KL/WTW 17-Nov-1999 12:38 PM EDT (17-Nov-1999 1738 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .