Obey order on Zardari or face contempt charges: Pak SC to PM

Obey order on Zardari or face contempt charges: Pak SC to PM

Refusing to buy his arguments, Pakistan's Supreme Court today firmly told embattled Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani that he had no option but to write to Swiss authorities to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari as no one was above the law.

Hearing Gilani's appeal against an apex court order summoning him on February 13 for framing contempt charges over his failure to act on its directive to reopen corruption cases against Zardari, an eight-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said the Prime Minister should have taken the initiative.

The court said it had shown patience in the two years since it ordered the matter to be taken up with Switzerland.

It said contempt proceedings against 59-year-old Gilani would automatically end if he wrote a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against Zardari.

The apex court is expected to give its ruling on Gilani's 200-page appeal soon as the bench directed his lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan to complete his arguments by 10.30 am tomorrow.

The person involved in the graft cases is the head of the Prime Minister's party PPP but no one is above the law, Chaudhry said.

The 60 million dollars that were allegedly laundered will come back to Pakistan only if the letter is written to Swiss authorities, the bench said.

Besides Switzerland, the government will have to approach other countries to revive graft cases, the Chief Justice indicated.

"The Prime Minister should not be the person to undermine any institution. This money will not come to our pockets. Actually it is the nation which wants this money," Chaudhry said.

The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases against Zardari in Switzerland since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The government has refused to reopen the cases against Zardari, saying the President enjoys complete immunity from prosecution in criminal cases in Pakistan and abroad.

During today's proceedings, the Chief Justice insisted that Gilani should have taken the initiative to reopen the cases.

Ahsan pointed out that the Swiss authorities had themselves closed the cases in 2008, when Zardari took office, on the grounds of immunity, and that there was no third party to claim the funds.

The bench also asked Ahsan to remove some "objectionable" paragraphs from Gilani's appeal.

In these paragraphs, Gilani had questioned initiation of a contempt case against him even though he had freed several top judges who were detained by the regime of Musharraf.

Ahsan yesterday filed Gilani's appeal against a different bench's order summoning him on February 13 for the framing of contempt charges.

The appeal pointed out more than 50 legal and Constitutional points which support the view that the Premier did not go against the Constitution by not reopening the cases against Zardari.

Commentators have accused the apex court of bias, saying it had taken virtually no action against the more than 8,000 other people who had benefited from Musharraf's graft amnesty.

Ahsan said Gilani was appearing before the court in a personal capacity and if he was convicted, it would be Gilani who would be sent to jail and not the Prime Minister.

He insisted that Gilani should get the benefit of the doubt.

However, the Chief Justice contended that a Prime Minister should have high ethical standards and the language of Gilani's appeal gave the impression that he wanted to influence the court's judgement.

He questioned why the Prime Minister was not obeying the apex court.

If the Premier is refusing to write the letter to the Swiss authorities, he should dismiss all the judges and appoint his party's workers in their place, the Chief Justice remarked.

Gilani had earlier personally appeared before a different bench when it had first taken up the contempt case on January 19 but he was exempted from further hearings.