Former President Asif Ali Zardari was acquitted in two high-profile corruption cases on Tuesday by an accountability court. Zardari’s consul, Farooq Hussain Naek, was triumphant in his press conference, saying “The court has honourably acquitted Asif Ali Zardari, in 18-year-old reference cases for which he had spent eight years in prison”. The verdict may be a cause for celebration in the former president’s camp – who has been dogged by corruption scandals for most of his political career - but the proceedings of the case show that there was nothing neither triumphant nor honourable about the ‘victory’.

The court acquitted the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman for “the want of evidence” – more specifically because the original case files could not be found, only photocopies existed. Whichever way this is diced, it is fair to say that a legal technicality came to the former president’s rescue, had the court considered photocopies admissible documents the case could have been a different matter. Coupled with the controversy surrounding the disappearance of the original documents, this verdict is much less straight straightforward than what the PPP is making it out to be. In 2009 Pakistani High Commissioner in Britain Wajid Shamsul Hasan, and senior National Accountability Bureau (NAB) official, Danishwar Malik, were documented leaving Geneva for London – bringing with them ’12 boxes’ of evidence against Zardari that had been kept there. The fact that the flight carried the boxes and the two men is documented, but the evidence never reached the Pakistani High Commission in London, and both individuals later presented contradicting stories that were disputed by NAB. No one has been held accountable for this incident to date.

The PPP has maintained that the cases were politically motivated to victimise Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, during the 1990s. While it is true that the PPP and PML-N took turns to discredit each other through trumped up charges during the 90s, the acquittal in this case cannot be presented as a clean acquittal, especially with the inconsistencies surrounding it.

To the former president these details will mean little, he has two less charges to worry about and the boost might be useful for the final phase of the ongoing Local Government (LG) polls. The PPP has fared poorly, partly because of the corruption scandals the party’s co-chairman was associated with. This verdict allows him to do some damage control, but perhaps for Zardari and the PPP, it is too late; the graft cases has become part of the leader’s colloquial persona.