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Bhutto's Dark Clinton Era Legacy
© Jack Cashill
In researching the April 1996 Croatian plane crash that killed former Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, I slowly but steadily moved to the conclusion that it was not an accident.
The evidence strongly supports sabotage by Croatian intelligence. The evidence just as strongly argues that Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and his son Miroslav, the nation’s intelligence chief, had no reason to initiate such a plot.
After Brown had a literal “come to Jesus” experience in early 1996, however, several parties did have reason to fear Brown in his increasingly apparent confessional mode.
Chief among them were the Clinton White House and the People’s Republic of China in that Brown served as principal bagman in their campaign cash-for-technology exchanges.
There was, however, a third possible suspect. I chose not to explore this angle in any detail in my book, Ron Brown’s Body, because my knowledge of this suspect’s involvement with Brown comes from only one source, the late Stephen Dresch.
A forensic economist of the highest order, Dresch had been commissioned by one of the insurance companies held potentially liable in the Brown crash to find out all he could about Brown. No one knew more.
Had Dresch not proved so scrupulously reliable in his other investigative efforts, I would have been disinclined to believe the story he told. It is that excessive.
Nevertheless, the story squares with the reckless logic of Brown’s life as well as with all credibly reported facts. All the details that follow that do not involve Brown can be easily verified.
The story begins in 1987, when Benzahir Bhutto, t he eldest daughter of a former Pakistani prime minister, married a polo-playing idler by the name of Asif Ali Zardari.
Educated at Harvard and Oxford, the pretend populist Bhutto denounced the greed she saw around her, especially the “avaricious politicians” who were destroying her country.
Among the greediest was the nation’s strongman ruler, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who was not about to share what he had so brutally acquired.
Eight months after Bhutto’s marriage to Zardari, however, Zia died in what The New York Times called “a mysterious plane crash.” This unexpected tragedy, added the Times, “opened the way for Bhutto to win a narrow election victory.”
Although there were no subsequent arrests, few in Pakistan believe this crash to have been an accident.
Bhutto’s new husband, Zardari, quickly proved to be more avaricious a politician than Zia. His conspicuous gift for extortion as Bhutto’s Minister for Investment earned him the honorific “Mr. Ten Percent.”
In 1990, Zardari allegedly attached a bomb to a Pakistani businessman and forced him to withdraw money from his bank account. He was arrested for blackmail and convicted.
Largely because of Zardari, the President of Pakistan dismissed Bhutto in August 1990 for corruption and inability to maintain law and order. In 1993, however, Bhutto was elected Prime Minister once again, and Zardari’s conviction was overturned.
Brown likely met Bhutto and Zardari for the first time in South Africa in May 1994, where all three had gone to witness the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president.
At about this same time, back in Washington, according to Dresch, Brown made the acquaintance of a Bhutto protegee, Pakistani’s new ambassador, the glamorous Maleeha Lodhi.
With a Ph.D. in politics from the London School of Economics and her movie star looks, Lodhi, a single mom, took Brown and Washington by storm.
In November 1994, although Pakistan already had an official lobbyist, Lodhi chose to give some of her business to Patton Boggs, Brown’s former employer.
Signing the contract for Patton Boggs was none other than Lanny Davis, a partner who would soon earn his fifteen minutes of fame by flakking on nightly cable shows for Clinton during the Monica fiasco.
Lodhi and her lobbyists had one overriding mission: to kill or suppress the so-called Pressler amendment and close the books on a deal for American F-16 fighter bombers that had been initiated years before.
In brief, the amendment declared that no American military or technology aid could go to Pakistan unless it would “reduce significantly the risk that Pakistan will possess a nuclear explosive device.”
Pakistan was understandably miffed that George Bush applied the amendment in 1990 after Pakistan had already paid General Dynamics $658 million for 28 F-16s.
Amer Lodhi, Maleeha’s brother, saw an opportunity in the F-16 imbroglio. A former executive with the infamously corrupt Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI), Amer got to know Brown through his sister. When in D.C., Zardari joined the party.
Inevitably, Amer Lodhi and Zardari came up with a scheme. Not surprisingly, it involved the always pliable Brown. Brown was to use his influence not to secure the F-16s, but to get Pakistan its money back.
Incredibly, Zardari and Amer Lohdi planned to pocket at least $400 million of the returned money minus an 8%, or $32 million, cut for Brown. For Brown, this was to be the mother of all insider deals.
Although Brown’s pull was scarcely worth $32 million, the Pakistani investment in Brown had an insidious intelligence about it. By involving Brown the Pakistanis were by extension implicating the White House in their scheme.
With the 1996 election at stake, exposure could damage the Clinton administration almost as much it would Bhutto’s. The best way to avoid exposure would be to keep Bhutto in power. If push came to shove, everyone would have an interest in doing just that.
Zardari and Lohdi, however, overreached. Not content with the $400 million on the F-16 deal, they pitted Russia against France in a competitive bidding situation to see who would replace the planes that the Americas had refused to send.
The French won the competition, not on lowest bid, but on the highest bribe. In 1995, as reported by the New York Times in a special feature called House of Graft, 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.”
The contract even included elaborate mechanisms to hide the proposed payoff and to prevent it from triggering French corruption laws.
As 1995 rolled into 1996, Zardari and Lohdi hammered out their deal with the French, and the Pakistani media began to hammer Bhutto and Zardari.
Stories of the incredible corruption in which the first couple of Pakistan was mired began to surface. Facing an election in February 1997, Bhutto blasted the media and insisted that the stories were all fabrications. Sound familiar?
That Bhutto and Hillary Clinton would come to share the same political strategist, Mark Penn, should come as no surprise.
With an increasingly tenuous grip on power, Bhutto and Zardari, however, had real reason to fear some sudden revelation of Zardari’s dealings by a prominent American source like Brown.
Bhutto and Zardari had some familiarity with mysterious death. Just as they benefited politically from Zia’s plane crash in 1998, they benefited from another mysterious tragedy in September 1996.
A police hit squad in Karachi, under murky circumstances, managed to kill the leader of the opposition to Bhutto, her own brother, Murtaza Bhutto.
The relief, however, was short lived. The mother of Benzahir and Murtaza credibly accused Bhutto and Zardari of masterminding the assassination of her son, and Zardari was charged with the murder.
In November 1996, the president of Pakistan dismissed Bhutto once again. Mohammad Nawaz Sharif won the ensuing election in a landslide, and Bhutto and Zardari were in serious trouble.
The Court sentenced the pair to 5 years in prison for corruption, fined them $8.6 million and disqualified them from holding public office. Bhutto went into exile and Zardari was left to rot away in a Pakistani jail.
Meanwhile, at least according to Pakistani sources, Lanny Davis and Patton Boggs advanced the cause of the refund on the F-16s by threatening to sue America to get the money back.
President Clinton obliged them. He chose to telephone Prime Minister Sharif and confirm the nearly $500 final settlement of the F-16 dispute on December 18, 1998. If this date sounds familiar, it should. It was the penultimate day of the House impeachment hearings.
On December 19, the day Clinton was impeached, “The delighted Prime Minister announced that the long pending F-16 issue was resolved, and it was a concrete outcome of his recent Washington visit.”
One has to wonder what else—or rather who else--they talked about during that visit.
About Ron Brown and Mega Fix:
In this stunning, surprisingly entertaining, 90-minute DVD video documentary, Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Jack Cashill traces the roots of Sept. 11 to the perfect storm of disinformation that surrounded the Clintons' desperate drive for the White House in the years 1995-1996.
Cashill leads the viewer from Oklahoma City to Dubrovnik, where Ron Brown's plane crashed, to the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia to the destruction of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island to the Olympic Park bombing. Jack Cashill's "Mega Fix" DVD is now available.
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