No harm in reopening of graft case, says Gilani’s lawyer
ISLAMABAD PAKISTAN’S embattled premier should write to Switzerland about reopening graft cases against the president to avoid being charged with contempt and kicked out of office, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
The comments from Aitzaz Ahsan are the clearest indication yet that Yousuf Raza Gilani may step back from the brink of further confrontation with the judiciary when he is summoned before Pakistan’s top court on Thursday.
The Supreme Court initiated contempt proceedings against Gilani, exasperated by his refusal to write to the Swiss asking them to re-open graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari since an amnesty expired in 2009.
The move plunged Pakistan into deeper crisis, with the government already under immense pressure from the army and the judiciary over a secret memo asking for American assistance to help curb the power of the military in May.
If the prime minister were to be charged with contempt, he would be stripped of office and could face up to six months in prison — leaving little option but to satisfy the judges, resign or risk being unceremoniously sacked.
“Asif Ali Zardari has complete immunity as president,” Ahsan told reporters.
“There is no harm in writing a letter to the Swiss authorities.
He enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad as long as he is president,” he added.
The standoff between the government and the courts over corruption cases facing political leaders rests on principle alone given that Switzerland says Zardari is immune from prosecution as long as he remains in office.
Gilani’s decision to appoint Ahsan as his lawyer has been seen as a conciliatory gesture to the judiciary — on a collision course with the government that is widely expected to help force early elections this year.
Ahsan is a senior leader in Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and well respected by the judiciary for his role at the vanguard of a lawyers’ movement that forced the government to reinstate independent judges in March 2009.
Supreme Court judges have six options on how to proceed which include finding Gilani in contempt, disqualifying the prime minister and president, and holding early elections.
Ahsan said he did not believe Gilani would be convicted.
“I don’t think the prime minister has committed contempt of court by not writing the letter. Through my arguments I will try to convince the court that the prime minister is not guilty of contempt.” PPP leaders accuse unnamed conspirators of plotting to bring down the government before its mandate ends in early 2013, in what many have interpreted as a judiciary-military axis working behind the scenes. But the options open to Gilani are slim.
Former chief justice, Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, told AFP that Gilani could either resign or comply with the court’s order.
“The matter has gone too far. It will only make sense if he complies with the court order after tendering an apology,” Siddiqui said.