A first for Pakistan: Gilani indicted for contempt (Evening Lead)

February 13th, 2012 - 9:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Yousuf Raza Gilani Islamabad, Feb 13 (IANS) Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was Monday indicted by the Supreme Court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani, who pleaded innocence, could be jailed for six months or even lose office if convicted.

The nattily-dressed prime minister waved to his supporters before entering the court where the head of the seven-member bench, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, read out the chargesheet for contempt of court.

He asked the prime minister, a prominent leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), to stand up and hear the charges against him, Xinhua reported.

The bench read out the two-page chargesheet in the packed court room and indicted him of contempt.

“Have you read the charges framed against you?” asked the bench.

“Yes, I have read. I (have) understood,” Online news agency quoted Gilani as responding.

The prime minister added after consultation with his counsel: “I will plead innocence.”

The court exempted Gilani from appearing in person in the next hearing to be held Feb 22. Evidence by the prime minister will be recorded Feb 27 and 28.

Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq was asked by the court to act as the prosecutor.

Gilani’s counsel Aitzaz Ahsan sought time till Feb 24 for submission of reply as he was going out of the country, reported Geo News.

PPP secretary for information Qamar Zaman Kaira said it was a sad day for Pakistan.

“For the first time the prime minister has been charged. It’s a sad day for Pakistan,” Geo News quoted Kaira as saying.

Allies like Awami National Party (ANP) have rallied around Gilani in this fresh crisis, which will put a question mark on the future of the government if there is a conviction.

There was tight security as the prime minister reached the court, which had issued him a contempt notice Jan 16.

Gilani appeared before the Supreme Court Jan 19 for not acting against Zardari for corruption and defended his move, saying that the constitution provided immunity to the president.

Gilani then said he had spent six years in prison and had never been reluctant to appear before the court.

The apex court had warned the government of action if its ruling on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), granting immunity to politicians and bureaucrats in corruption cases, was not implemented by Jan 10.

The court also sought reopening of cases closed under the NRO, struck down as void in 2009. It ordered the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen cases against Zardari.

Zardari, accused of graft, had been granted amnesty under the NRO which was issued in 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in 1998 accused Zardari and the late Benazir of awarding a pre-shipment inspection contract to the Societe Generale Surveillance (SGS). This was done in return allegedly for a six percent commission on the total amount the company got from the Pakistani government.

In August 2008, Swiss judicial authorities, acting on the request of Pakistan, closed a money laundering case against Zardari and released $60 million frozen in Swiss accounts.

Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, the elder daughter of Zardari and Benazir Bhutto, wrote on Twitter that people cry over immunity but seem to forget that her father spent over 11 years in prison without a single conviction.

“PPP is not a party of cowards. We are a party of fighters + martyrs because we believe in a democratic Pakistan (sic),” the Daily Times quoted Bakhtawar as tweeting.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain expressed his sympathies with Gilani.

“Now that the prime minister has been charged by the apex court, he should respect the court’s verdict and show patience,” Hussain said.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif asked the government to write to the Swiss authorities so that “plundered wealth” could be brought back to the country.

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