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Pakistan Court Declares Musharraf A Fugitive In Bhutto Murder Case

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf

An antiterrorism court in Pakistan has declared former President Pervez Musharraf a fugitive in connection with the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

The court in Rawalpindi also jailed two senior police officers on August 31 for negligence and acquitted five other men in the first verdicts to be issued in the case, nearly 10 years after Bhutto's killing in a gun and bomb attack during an election rally in the city.

The court ruled that Musharraf "absconded," a court official said, and ordered the confiscation of his property.

Musharraf was charged in 2013 with murder, criminal conspiracy for murder, and facilitation for murder in an unprecedented move against a former Pakistani military ruler.

He has been in self-imposed exile in Dubai since a travel ban was lifted in March 2016 for health reasons while awaiting trial.

Musharraf has denied being part of a conspiracy to have his political rival killed before elections.

The court also found two senior police officers guilty of "mishandling the crime scene," the court official said. They were sentenced to 17 years in prison each and fined 500,000 rupees ($4,700).

One of the convicted, Khurram Shahzad, was accused of hosing down the crime scene less than two hours after Bhutto's assassination took place.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1954-2007)
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1954-2007)

Saud Aziz, who was chief of the Rawalpindi police at the time, was accused of giving Shahzad permission to hose down the scene and of refusing to allow an autopsy of Bhutto's body to go ahead.

Meanwhile, the court acquitted five men of conspiracy to murder, citing lack of evidence. They had been accused of being Taliban militants involved in the conspiracy to murder Bhutto.

A defense lawyer said it was not yet clear when they would be freed.

Musharraf's government blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who denied any involvement. He was killed in a U.S. drone attack in 2009.

In 2010, a UN report accused Musharraf's government of failing to give Bhutto adequate protection.

With reporting by AFP