In an arraignment earlier today, former President Asif Ali Zardari pleaded not guilty in front of an accountability court via video appearance. He has been accused of using undue influence to obtain a loan amounting to 1.5 billion rupees for his company called Parthenon Private Limited and then channeling the money through illegally – using a series of fake bank accounts – reportedly for his “personal use”.
It is believed he has done this repeatedly by establishing multiple “front” companies in order to procure loans. Loss to the treasury due to his actions is quoted to be 3.77 billion rupees. As a result, Zardari is potentially facing charges of corruption and fraud.
Will pleading not guilty help his case?
According to court procedure, pleading not guilty can mean two things: the accused believe they are innocent or they want the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond all doubt. This can buy the accused some extra time by allowing the defence to review the charges in more depth and also perhaps locate loopholes. However, while in some countries pleading not guilty allows the accused to later change their mind and plead guilty instead, it does not seem Pakistan’s courts permit this.
It is true that pleading not guilty gives the accused the best opportunity to ensure their side of the story is heard, and also leaves room for escaping conviction if evidence is found to be insufficient. Whether or not Zardari could have applied for a plea bargain, on the other hand, is debatable. While it may make possible a reduced prison sentence (or no sentence at all), the chief of National Accountability Bureau has claimed it is equivalent to pleading guilty – as a result, it is not only a permanent mark on one’s record but may also result in the loss of certain privileges and rights.