ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto's husband, who took effective control of his slain wife's party Sunday, is a former Cabinet minister who spent eight years in prison on corruption accusations and is known as "Mr. 10 Percent" for allegedly taking kickbacks.
In her will, read Sunday, Bhutto named Asif Ali Zardari her successor as head of the Pakistan Peoples Party in case of her death. But Zardari, who is viewed with suspicion by many Pakistanis, appointed his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, as official chairman of the party that the 19-year-old's grandfather founded in 1967.
While the elder Zardari is a prominent figure in Pakistani politics, earning a checkered reputation because of allegations that he made big money during Bhutto's government, his son is a suave, English speaking, Oxford student who has spent much of his life abroad.
He said at a news conference Sunday that his father will "take care" of the party while he completes his education.
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Asif Ali Zardari, 54, who comes from a feudal family, shot to fame after his arranged marriage to Bhutto, who become prime minister for the first time in 1988, less than three months after giving birth to her son. Bhutto's husband is generally blamed for many of her political misfortunes, with her twice being forced out of the prime minister's office over allegations of corruption and misrule.
Zardari was jailed for the first time in 1990 on charges ranging from murder to bank fraud when Bhutto's first government was dismissed. He was released in 1993 and acquitted of the charges, including the accusation that he tried to extort several million dollars from a British businessman by attaching a bomb to his leg. Zardari and his supporters said the charges were politically motivated.
Zardari became investment minister in Bhutto's second government. He was nicknamed "Mr. 10 Percent" for allegedly skimming off commissions on government contracts. He was also accused of spending state money on ponies and the apples to feed them at the prime minister's residence, while the poor lacked bread to eat.
He was jailed a second time in 1996 over corruption allegations and alleged involvement in an attack on Bhutto's brother, Murtaza, who died in a shootout near his home in Karachi.
After years in prison, facing marathon trials in different courts in the country, Zardari was freed in December 2004 and left Pakistan to live with his family in the United Arab Emirates.
Zardari is suffering from various ailments, including a heart problem and back pain that his aides say he developed because of prolonged imprisonment.
Little is known about his son, Bilawal, who has spent most of the past eight years living with his family in the UAE.
He closely resembles his mother, with a long face, sharp nose, dark, keen eyes and thick eyebrows.
While his father addressed the media in the local Urdu language Sunday, Bilawal spoke only in English, raising questions about his facility with Pakistan's national language. Bhutto herself spent much of her youth abroad and initially struggled with Urdu in her early years in politics.
In his brief remarks, the younger Zardari vowed to continue "the party's long and historic struggle for democracy ... with renewed vigor."
"My mother always said democracy is the best revenge," he said.
Bilawal is believed to share some of his father's feudal pastimes, a love for horses and horse riding, target shooting and taekwondo, in which he is a black belt.