Pak gives Zardari immunity against graft trial

Attorney General Justice (retd) Anwar-ul-Haq's had sent a note to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Friday on the Supreme Court's orders on reopening corruption cases against Zardari.

The law ministry, meanwhile, elaborating on the attorney general's note, has sent a note to the prime minister saying the cases cannot be reopened because of the immunity he enjoys in the president's office.

It has been alleged that Zardari was a major beneficiary of offshore companies registered in various parts of the world and the benefits he allegedly received from the deals were deposited in Swiss banks.

The prime minister has reportedly agreed with the law ministry and the summary would be presented before the Supreme Court during the next hearing Sep 27."The president has immunity and we don't have any confusion in this regard," said Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.

"We don't want any deadlock with any institution and would remain in power till we enjoy majority in parliament," he said.The president enjoys immunity under Article 248 of Pakistan's constitution, which states that "no criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the president or a governor in any court during his term of office".

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had initiated the cases during the tenure of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.Former president Pervez Musharraf in October 2007 decided to introduce a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) to dispose of  all pending cases and give immunity to all tainted politicians and government officials.

The NRO also paved the way for the return of exiled politicians, including Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, to Pakistan before the 2008 elections.The then attorney general, Malik Qayyum sent a letter to Swiss authorities to withdraw all cases against Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari.

After Pakistan's Supreme Court struck down the NRO in December 2009, it also ordered the reopening of all cases that were closed under this controversial ordinance.
A former director general of the Intelligence Bureau, Brig. (retd) Imtiaz, and a high-ranking bureaucrat, Adnan Khwaja, were sent to jail earlier this September on the orders of the apex court as their acquittal under the NRO was revoked.

The most talked about of these cases is against Zardari, who has since become Pakistan's president after his party came to power in the general elections of 2008.
The Supreme Court, as always, has given a strict interpretation of the article of the constitution mentioned by the law ministry.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has warned the authorities concerned to comply because "there could be dire consequences otherwise".The government and the opposition also have different opinion on the immunity.

While Gilani said "only parliament can withdraw the immunity of the president if it so desires", Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and chief of the main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, stressed that "only the Supreme Court could decide on the immunity of the president".   

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