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Has Gilani been made a scapegoat to hide Zardari's graft?

Last updated on: February 13, 2012 13:51 IST

Has Gilani been made a scapegoat to hide Zardari's graft?

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Tahir Ali in Islamabad

Despite the Pakistan supreme court's orders and pressure from opposition parties, the government has been reluctant to write to Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against the President Asif Ali Zardari. Tahir Ali reports from Islamabad

The supreme court of Pakistan on Monday indicted Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani for contempt of court in the National Reconciliation Ordinance implementation case. The charge-sheet said the prime minister had violated article 204 of the constitution by not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities as ordered by the court. It added that the prime minister also violated paragraph 178 of the court's verdict in the NRO implementation case.

Gilani pleaded not guilty and sought more time in the case. However, the court ordered Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq to prosecute the prime minister and present more documents and proof in court.

All anxiously waited for the supreme court's verdict as Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani appeared before the apex court for formal charges in the contempt proceedings. The supreme court on February 10 had rejected Gilani's appeal seeking withdrawal of "contempt of court's charges", which the apex court had leveled against him.

The prime minister and his ruling Pakistan Peoples Party have had, so far, refused to write to Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in spite of several court orders.

For Realtime News on Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, click here  

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Image: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari
Photographs: Reuters
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'Court can go to any extent to implement its verdict'

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The prime minister and PPP argued that the president enjoyed immunity under the constitution as head of state. The ruling party has also claimed that the corruption charges were politically motivated. But the court was not impressed and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Choudhry, who had dismissed Gilani's review appeal during the last hearing, said that "the court can go to any extent to implement its verdict".

Gilani had earlier appeared before a seven-member bench of the court on January 19 and defended his government's decision not to approach the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the PPP. The country's anti-graft institution has said that millions of dollars have been transferred to Swiss banks illegally and that the money must be returned. The National Accountability Bureau had earlier suggested a probe into how the money had been transferred to Swiss banks and who the money belongs to.

The court ordered reopening of all graft cases in 2009 that were dropped against President Zardari and nearly 8,000 people, mostly political leaders and government officials, under a law introduced by former military dictator General Parvez Musharraf. The NRO was issued in 2007 at the conclusion of secret talks between Musharraf and slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

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Image: The Pakistan Supreme Court


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'Money in Swiss banks belong to president and Benazir Bhutto'

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The opposition parties claim that the money belonged to the president and his widow, Benazir Bhutto, the two-time prime minister, who was killed in a suicide bomb blast and firing in December 2007 two months after she returned to Pakistan after years of self-exile. Despite the court's orders and mounting pressure by the opposition parties to respect these orders, the government and the president have been reluctant to write to Swiss authorities.

Several coalition partners have also advised the government to send the letter to end the controversy. President Zardari had said in a TV interview in December that writing a letter to Swiss officials would amount to trial of the grave of Benazir Bhutto. The controversy has brought the court and the beleaguered prime minister to direct confrontation and legal experts believe that the tension can deprive the prime minister of his office.

If convicted in the contempt of court's charges, the prime minister would be put behind bars and would lose his parliamentary seat. It would also bring a five-year ban on him from holding any public office.

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Image: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari


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'Gilani has taken all efforts to save President Zardari'

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Yousuf Raza Gilani had recently told a public meeting in Punjab province that the people have rendered a lot of sacrifices so far and now it was the turn of the rulers to sacrifice. Gilani's remark is seen in the context of the government-judiciary tussle, as many believe the PM had made mind not to budge from the earlier stand when he appeared in the supreme court on Monday.

The controversy could only be averted and the contempt of charges withdrawn if the prime minister tendered an unconditional apology and accepted the court's order.

Gilani has taken all these efforts to save President Asif Ali Zardari. The president has made Gilani a scapegoat to conceal his own graft cases. 

If Gilani is removed and another member from the PPP becomes prime minister the SC would ask him to write to the Swiss authorities under Article 204 of the constitution.

Such efforts could only prolong the tenure of Zardari as president, but it won't solve the issue and the situation would remain complex.


Image: Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani

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