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Pak PM unlikely to be arrested soon; 'several measures left'

By Rezaul H Laskar
January 16, 2013 20:42 IST
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Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf is unlikely to be arrested soon on graft charges despite a Supreme Court order for the same as sources and government on Wednesday 4maintained that the court had not set any deadline.

The government will act according to the law on the Pakistan supreme court's order for action against Ashraf over alleged graft in power projects though several procedures will have completed before any arrest warrant can be issued, a federal minister said.

"The government of Pakistan is acting according to the law and what the supreme court has said will be acted upon. The judgement of the Supreme Court will be honoured,"

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told a news conference outside parliament on Wednesday evening.

However, Kaira made it clear that several procedures would have to be completed by the National Accountability Bureau, the country's main anti-corruption agency, before an accountability or anti-corruption court can issue an arrest warrant.

Sources in the government told PTI that the NAB was unlikely to take any immediate action to arrest 62-year-old Ashraf. Though media reports had yesterday quoted the  supreme court bench as saying that Ashraf and the other suspects should be arrested in 24 hours, the written order issued by the bench set no deadline for the arrests.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Tuesday directed the National Accountability Bureau, the country's main anti-corruption agency, to initiate action against Ashraf and over 20 other persons for alleged corruption in the setting up of 'rental power projects'.

In its order, the bench directed officials to submit investigation reports and get approval for 'challans' (chargesheets) and cases against the accused and 'to cause their arrest without any hesitation'. The bench further directed authorities to submit a report to the court on January 17.

Kaira told reporters that the prosecutor general would file a report on the alleged graft in the power projects to the NAB, which would then decide about registering a case.

"Legal experts have told me that after the (case) is approved, the accountability court will issue arrest warrants for those named in the (case). If the higher courts do not grant bail, then according to that, we will act upon it," Kaira said.

The supreme court's order gave a boost to anti-government protest by cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who is staging a sit-in near parliament with thousands of his supporters. Qadri claimed the premier had lost his 'moral authority' and should step down.

Ahraf became the premier in July last year after his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was convicted for contempt and disqualified by the supreme court for refusing to act on orders to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland.

The graft charges over the power projects date back to Ashraf's tenure as Power Minister, when contracts were signed for several rental power projects as part of the Pakistan People's Party-led government's strategy to overcome a crippling energy shortage.

Though Ashraf was dropped during a cabinet reshuffle in 2011, he remained close to Zardari. The apex court began investigating the rental power plants in 2009 following a complaint of corruption from PML-Q parliamentarian Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat.

The court had directed the NAB to take action against all government functionaries involved in clearing the power projects, including ministers who held the power portfolio since 2006 and officials of state-run power utilities who derived financial benefits from the contracts.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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