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Zardari graft cases: Pak SC approves Swiss draft letter

October 10, 2012 14:16 IST

After weeks of wrangling, Pakistan Supreme Court on Wednesday approved a third draft of a letter that will ask Swiss authorities to revive graft cases against Asif Ali Zardari, with the government making it clear that any proceedings in that country would be conditional to the immunity available to the president.

Law Minister Farooq Naek submitted the draft letter to a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, which approved the document after examining it behind closed doors.

The draft letter -- the third presented by the government before the court which had objected to the contents of the previous two -- made it clear that any proceedings in Switzerland would be conditional to the immunity provided to the President by the Constitution and Pakistani and international laws.

Referring to a letter written to Swiss authorities in 2007 by the then Attorney General Malik Qayyum for closing the cases against Zardari, the latest draft said that document should be considered as retracted and "never written".

Restoration of legal assistance between the two countries was also referred to in the draft.

However, the apex court turned down Naek's request to withdraw a contempt notice issued to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, saying a decision in this regard could be taken only after the issue of approaching the Swiss authorities is fully resolved.

On being asked by the bench how long it would take to send the letter to Switzerland, Naek said the draft would have to be translated into French and then sent through the foreign ministry.

He sought four weeks to complete the process and the court accepted his request.

 The court subsequently adjourned the case till November 14.

Over the past few weeks, the government and the court have sparred on the issue of framing the formal request for the revival of cases against Zardari over the alleged laundering of some USD 60 million.

Reports said the initial drafts only mentioned that the government would inform Swiss authorities that the letter sent in 2007 for closing the cases had been withdrawn. There was also no mention of the revival of mutual legal assistance.

At the same time, the government insisted that the letter should mention the immunity available to the President under the Constitution and international laws and conventions.

Official sources told PTI that the two sides had reached a compromise following several consultations between Naek and the judges in their chambers during recent hearings.

Naek said the draft approved by the apex court would not affect "the legal rights and defences of the president under national and international laws and the Constitution."

"There will be no trial (of the President). It is not written in draft that there will be a trial. There is no case in that country (Switzerland), not in the past, now or in the future. No question of a trial arises, there was only an investigation," he told reporters after the hearing.

Naek said Zardari had spent about 10 years in jail though none of the corruption charges against him in Pakistan or abroad had been proved.

He dispelled the impression that the government had struck a deal with the apex court over the letter.

"We conveyed our reservations to the apex court and similarly, the court expressed its reservations," he said.

Justice Khosa read the draft letter in the courtroom and said it was ready to be sent to the Swiss authorities.

The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases against the President since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others. The government has refused to act, saying the president enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad.

Ashraf is the second Premier to appear in the apex court to face a contempt charge for refusing to revive the cases against Zardari. His predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was convicted of contempt and disqualified in June.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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