Pakistan court throws out PM contempt appeal

February 10, 2012 9:11 am


Embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani/AFP
ISLAMABAD, Feb 10 – Pakistan’s top court Friday threw out a last-ditch appeal from embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, ordering him to appear in court on Monday to be indicted for contempt.

If convicted, Gilani faces six months in jail and being disqualified from office in a case fanning political instability that expected to force elections within months in the country troubled by Al-Qaeda and Taliban violence.

The Supreme Court is now insistent that Gilani appear for the framing of contempt charges over the government’s two-year refusal to ask Swiss authorities to re-open graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

“The appeal is dismissed,” said chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Zardari and his late wife, prime minister Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in Pakistan in the 1990s.

Chaudhry had said the court would only drop the summons if Gilani obeyed its order of writing to the Swiss authorities, asking them to re-open the cases.

The judge on Friday again said he wanted a clear answer on whether the prime minister would write the letter, telling his lawyer: “We are ready to give you 10 minutes to talk to the prime minister on the phone and let us know.”

“I have no mandate to do that,” replied Gilani’s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, Ahsan confirmed that the prime minister would now appear in court on Monday.

The Swiss shelved the cases in 2008, when Zardari became head of state, and a prosecutor in Switzerland has said it will be impossible to re-open them as long as he remains head of state and is immune from prosecution.

Gilani insists that Zardari has full immunity.

Members of the government accuse judges of over-stepping their reach and of trying to bring down the prime minister and president, a year before the administration would become the first in Pakistan to complete an elected term.

“No one wants unrest. We are exercising restraint,” Chaudhry told the court.

“Tell the prime minister this is not in the interests of the country (to defy the court order),” he told Ahsan.

The Pakistani court overturned in December 2009 a two-year political amnesty that had frozen the allegations against Zardari and other politicians.

Gilani himself appeared before the Supreme Court on January 19, citing Zardari’s immunity as explanation for his refusal to obey the court’s order.

Legal experts say that Gilani can only avoid being charged by lodging a successful appeal, apologising or promising to write to the Swiss.

The president, so tainted by corruption allegations that his nickname is “Mr 10 Percent”, has already spent 11 years in jail on charges ranging from corruption to murder.

He was never convicted and his supporters say that the charges were politically motivated.

English-language newspaper The News, a strong critic of the government, said “the conviction die appears to have been cast” in a process “that may ultimately claim the scalp of Prime Minister Gilani” and put him on trial.

“And if background information and observations are even half as credible, it will be one heck of a rocky ride ending with Gilani landing in the judicial marshes,” it wrote in an editorial.


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