Pak SC orders arrest of PM Ashraf

Bribe in power projects alleged

Pak SC orders arrest of  PM Ashraf

Pakistan on Tuesday plunged into fresh political turmoil months ahead of a general election with the Supreme Court ordering arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for allegedly receiving bribes in power projects.

Already rocked by fiery cleric Tahirul Qadri’s ongoing protest demanding dissolution of provincial and national assemblies, Pakistan appeared headed for uncertainty with a three-judge apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry setting a 24-hour deadline for authorities to implement its arrest orders that may cost a second prime minister his job in less than a year.

Ashraf (62), who became prime minister after the exit of Yousuf Raza Gilani in June last year, has been accused of receiving kickbacks and commission in the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) case as federal minister for water and power.

His predecessor Gilani had to quit in the midst of a raging battle with the Supreme Court over his refusal to write to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari there. After Ashraf assumed power, the government wrote to Swiss authorities.

It is not clear as to what will be the political fallout of the Supreme Court’s order against Ashraf as this is probably the first case of an incumbent prime minister being ordered to be arrested in a corruption case. It remains to be seen whether the ruling PPP will elect a new leader to replace Ashraf. The Pakistan government is to complete its five-year term in mid-March and the elections are expected to be held by May.

In March last year, the apex court declared all contracts signed by the government for “rental power plants” as illegal and directed authorities to take legal action against those responsible for clearing the projects, including Ashraf.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country’s main anti-corruption agency, had so far refused to act on the court’s directive.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the Bench issued a notice for contempt of court to the NAB chief Fasih Bukhari.

Angered by revelations that two officers investigating the corruption in power projects had been transferred, the apex court directed NAB to arrest Ashraf and over 20 other suspects within 24 hours.

The judges were particularly angered by revelations that orders were issued for transferring the two NAB officials on the false ground that the apex court was unhappy with their performance.

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