HOUSE OF GRAFT Tracing the Bhutto Millions A special report. New York Times January 9, 1998 Bhutto Clan Leaves Trail of Corruption in Pakistan By JOHN F. BURNS ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A decade after she led this impoverished nation from military rule to democracy, Benazir Bhutto is at the heart of a widening corruption inquiry that Pakistani investigators say has traced more than $100 million to foreign bank accounts and properties controlled by Bhutto's family. Starting from a cache of Bhutto family documents bought for $1 million from a shadowy intermediary, the investigators have detailed a pattern of secret payments by foreign companies that sought business favors during Bhutto's two terms as Pakistan's prime minister. The documents leave uncertain the degree of involvement by Bhutto, a Harvard graduate whose rise to power in 1988 made her the first woman to lead a Muslim country. But they trace the pervasive role of her husband, Asif Zardari, who turned his marriage to Bhutto into a source of virtually unchallengeable power. In 1995, a leading French military contractor, Dassault Aviation, agreed to pay Zardari and a Pakistani partner a $200 million commission for a $4 billion jet fighter deal that fell apart only when Bhutto's government was dismissed. In another deal, a leading Swiss company hired to curb customs fraud in Pakistan paid millions of dollars between 1994 and 1996 to offshore companies controlled by Zardari and Bhutto's widowed mother, Nusrat Bhutto. In the largest single payment investigators have discovered, a gold bullion dealer in the Middle East was shown to have deposited at least $10 million into one of Zardari's accounts after the Bhutto government gave him a monopoly on gold imports that sustained Pakistan's jewelry industry. The money was deposited into a Citibank account in the United Arab Emirates sheikdom of Dubai, one of several Citibank accounts used by Zardari. Together, the documents provided an extraordinarily detailed look at high-level corruption in Pakistan, a nation so poor that perhaps 70 percent of its 130 million people are illiterate, and millions have no proper shelter, no schools, no hospitals, not even safe drinking water. During Bhutto's five years in power, the country became so enfeebled that she spent much of her time negotiating loans to stave off default on more than $62 billion in public debt. A worldwide search for properties secretly bought by the Bhutto family is still in its early stages. But the inquiry has so far found that Zardari went on a shopping spree in the mid-1990s, purchasing among other things a $4 million, 355-acre estate south of London. Over eight months in 1994 and 1995, he used a Swiss bank account and an American Express card to buy jewelry worth $660,000 -- including $246,000 at Cartier Inc. and Bulgari Corp. in Beverly Hills, Calif., in barely a month. In separate interviews in Karachi, Bhutto, 44, and Zardari, 42, declined to address specific questions about the Pakistani inquiry, which they dismissed as a political vendetta by Bhutto's successor as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. In Karachi Central Prison, where he has been held for 14 months on charges of murdering Bhutto's brother, Zardari described the corruption allegations as part of a "meaningless game." But he offered no challenge to the authenticity of the documents tracing some of his most lucrative deals.