Pakistan court throws out PM appeal

AFP, Friday 10 Feb 2012

Supreme Court rejects embattled PM's appeal, ordering him to appear in court to face indictment over government's refusal to re-open corruption case

Aitzaz Ahsan, (C) the lawyer of Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, leaves after court appearance in Islamabad 2 February 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Pakistan's top court threw out a last-ditch appeal from embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday, ordering him to appear in court on Monday to face indictment for contempt.

The Supreme Court upheld a February 2 order for Gilani to appear for the framing of contempt charges over the government's two-year refusal to ask Swiss authorities to re-open graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

If convicted, Gilani faces up to six months in jail and being disqualified from office in a case that many observers say will likely build pressure on the government to force early elections within months.

"The appeal is dismissed," said chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Zardari and his late wife, prime minister Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in Pakistan in the 1990s.

On Thursday, Chaudhry said the court would only drop the summons if Gilani obeyed its order of writing to the Swiss authorities, asking them to re-open the cases that dates back more than two years.

The judge on Friday again said he wanted a clear answer on whether the prime minister would write the letter, telling his lawyer: "We are ready to give you 10 minutes to talk to the prime minister on the phone and let us know."

"I have no mandate to do that," replied Gilani's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, Ahsan confirmed that the prime minister would now appear in court on Monday.

The Swiss shelved the cases in 2008, when Zardari became head of state, and a prosecutor in Switzerland has said it will be impossible to re-open them as long as he remains head of state and is immune from prosecution.

Gilani insists that Zardari has full immunity.

Members of the government accuse judges of over-stepping their reach and of trying to bring down the prime minister and president, a year before the administration would become the first in Pakistan to complete an elected term.

"No one wants unrest. We are exercising restraint," Chaudhry told the court.

"Tell the prime minister this is not in the interests of the country (to defy the court order)," he told Ahsan.

The Pakistani court overturned in December 2009 a two-year political amnesty that had frozen the allegations against Zardari and other politicians.

Gilani himself appeared before the Supreme Court on January 19, citing Zardari's immunity as explanation for his refusal to obey the court's order.

Legal experts say that Gilani can only avoid being charged by lodging a successful appeal, apologising or promising to write to the Swiss.

The president, so tainted by corruption allegations that his nickname is "Mr 10 Percent", has already spent 11 years in jail on charges ranging from corruption to murder.

He was never convicted and his supporters say that the charges were politically motivated.

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