Zardari has immunuity as president, Gilani tells Supreme Court (Night Lead)January 20th, 2012 - 12:26 am ICT by IANS
Islamabad, Jan 19 (IANS) Embattled Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday made a rare personal appearance for a Pakistani prime minister in the Supreme Court here and stepped forth in defence of President Asif Ali Zardari, accused of corruption during his wife Benazir Bhutto’s two stints as the premier.
Hauled up by the Supreme Court for not initiating action against Zardari, Gilani told a seven-member bench during his seven-minute submission that the constitution provides immunity to the president. A large number of ruling Pakistan Peoples Party supporters shouted slogans outside.
The case will now be heard Feb 1, giving a breathing time to the 59-year-old prime minister who faces contempt charge from the apex court and has also run foul of the powerful army after sacking Lt. Gen. (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi as defence secretary. Lodhi was seen to be close to army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The “emerging political developments” — a reference to the simmering confrontation between the army and the democratically elected government, and a new folding tussle between the apex court and the Gilani regime — Thursday made former president Pervez Musharraf, who was to return to Pakistan by January-end, to postpone his arrival home.
There was high drama as Gilani himself drove down to the court, and was mobbed by boisterous activists of the PPP.
Gilani was on the defensive before the judges, who had Jan 16 issued him a contempt notice for failing to take legal action against Zardari despite the court’s directive, 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,” the daily Dawn quoted him as saying.
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 striking down 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 the 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 his return and that of his wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Gilani’s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan said the graft cases against Zardari could be reopened once he ceased to be 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 at 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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Tags: apex court, army chief, ashfaq, asif ali, benazir bhutto, breathing time, contempt charge, contempt notice, gilani, high drama, judicial fiat, khosa, lodhi, pakistan peoples party, pakistani prime minister, party supporters, parvez, pervez musharraf, president pervez musharraf, rare personal appearance