Gilani, in Supreme Court, backs Zardari (Evening Lead)

January 19th, 2012 - 6:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Yousuf Raza Gilani Islamabad, Jan 19 (IANS) Embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday made a rare personal appearance in the Supreme Court here to come out in defence of corruption-tainted President Asif Ali Zardari.

The constitution provides immunity to the president, Gilani told a seven-member bench during a seven-minute submission in the court even as a large number of ruling party supporters shouted slogans outside.

The case will now be heard Feb 1, giving breathing time to the 59-year-old prime minister who has also run foul of the powerful army after sacking the defence secretary, Lt. Gen. (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi.

Also Thursday, former president Pervez Musharraf, who was to return to Pakistan by January-end, postponed his arrival in view of the “emerging political developments”.

There was high drama as Gilani himself drove down to the court, and was mobbed by boisterous activists of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Gilani was on the defensive before the judges, insisting he would never even dream of challenging a judicial fiat. Outside, he looked confident as he waved to supporters, both while entering the court and later.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said Thursday was a great day for Pakistan.

Gilani told the bench: “It will not give a good message to proceed against a president who is elected by a two-thirds majority.

“I have discussed this with my friends and experts, and they agree he has got complete immunity,” Dawn quoted him as saying.

The court had issued Gilani a contempt notice Jan 16.

Gilani said he had spent six years in prison and had never been reluctant to appear before the court, Geo News reported.

“All over the world the presidents enjoy immunity. (The) constitution of Pakistan also provides immunity to the president. That is why we did not write to Swiss authorities.”

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 sought reopening of cases closed under NRO. It told the government to tell Switzerland, where Zardari faces money laundering charges, to reopen cases against the president.

Zardari, accused of graft, was granted amnesty by then president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari.

Gilani’s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan said the graft cases against Zardari could be reopened once he was no longer the president.

He sought a month’s time to file a response. Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said that access to records could be provided in two days.

The court exempted Gilani from appearing for the next hearing.

Gilani is the second prime minister after Nawaz Sharif to appear before the Supreme Court.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had in 1998 accused Zardari and the late Benazir Bhutto of giving a contract to a Swiss company in return for a six percent commission.

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

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