Pakistan refuses to reopen graft case against Zardari
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government told the Supreme Court yesterday that it will not reopen an old corruption case against the president, defying a judicial order that has brought down one prime minister and threatens his replacement.
The dispute centers on a graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari dating back to the late 1990s in Swiss court, a time when he became known as “Mr. 10 percent” for his reputation of demanding kickbacks on government contracts.
The Pakistani Supreme Court has demanded the government write a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to reopen the case. The government has refused, saying Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office. The court convicted former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of contempt and ousted him from office in June for refusing to write the letter. The ruling Pakistan People’s Party rallied support to elect a new premier, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and has remained defiant.
Pakistan’s attorney general, Irfan Qadir, appeared before the court Wednesday and told the judges that Ashraf also refused to reopen the case because of the president’s immunity.
“Your order is not implementable,” said Qadir. He accused the lead judge, Asif Saeed Khosa, of being biased against the president and said he should recuse himself from the proceedings — a demand rejected by Khosa.
Khosa demanded the new prime minister write the letter to the Swiss, but also seemed to soften the court’s stance, saying the judges would respect the president’s immunity if the government obeyed their order. He also gave the government more time to come up with a solution. Wednesday was the initial deadline for the government to say whether it would fulfill the court’s order, but Khosa adjourned the hearing until Aug. 8.
The judge’s somewhat softer stance could be a reaction to criticism of the court for threatening to bring down the first civilian government poised to finish its five-year term in the country’s history. Past governments were toppled by direct or indirect intervention by the country’s powerful army, often with help of the judiciary. The current government’s term ends in early 2013.
It’s unclear whether the judge’s comments will alter the government’s stance. Zardari has said in the past that his government would never write the letter.
“I will make a genuine and serious effort to solve this issue,” said Qadir.
The case against Zardari relates to kickbacks he and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, allegedly received from Swiss companies when Bhutto was in power in the 1990s. They were found guilty in absentia in Swiss court in 2003.
Posted by: Steve White