Pak PM Raja Pervez Ashraf says revoked letter closing graft cases against Asif Ali Zardari

Pak PM stood accused of shielding Zardari and faced prospect of being sacked by court.

Written by Agencies | Islamabad | Published: September 18, 2012 10:42 am

In a U-turn,Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf today told the Supreme Court that his government would revoke a letter to Swiss authorities asking for the closure of graft probe against President Asif Ali Zardari,a move that could pave way for reopening of the cases against him.

The apex court has postponed the hearing to September 25 and also exempted the Prime Minister from future hearing.

Appearing before a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to face a contempt charge for failing to reopen the cases against the President,Ashraf said he had instructed Law Minister Farooq Naek to revoke the letter that was written by former Attorney General Malik Qayyum in late 2007.

With the revocation of the letter written during the regime of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf,it will be up to the Swiss authorities to decide whether the cases against Zardari should be reopened,legal experts said.

Pakistan government appears to have backed down in duel with the judiciary over President’s graft cases as earlier it had refused to to act,saying the President enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad.

The case had cost former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani his job in June.

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.

In late 2007,Qayyum had asked Swiss authorities to close the graft cases against Zardari and his slain wife,former premier Benazir Bhutto,after Musharraf issued the National Reconciliation Ordinance,the graft amnesty.

The amnesty was part of a secret deal between Musharraf and Bhutto that facilitated the latter’s return to Pakistan from self-imposed exile.

Ashraf told the bench that he would abide by his commitment to find a solution to the issue of the graft cases. After reviewing all aspects of the matter,Prime Minister said he had decided to revoke the letter written by the former Attorney General and asked the Law Minister to take necessary steps.

The premier said he wanted a solution that protects the dignity of both the apex court and the President.

He further said the case involves the position of the President and not Zardari personally,and hoped that the apex court would “exercise caution”.

The bench told the premier that the court should be formally intimated after the Swiss Attorney General was informed of the latest development.

It further said the government should show it the draft of the letter to be sent to the Swiss authorities.

The court also said there should be no more unnecessary delays in the matter and the government should finalise the draft letter in two to three days.

Following a request from Ashraf for more time to draft the letter to be sent to the Swiss authorities,the Supreme Court adjourned the case till September 25.

The bench also accepted Ashraf’s request to be exempted from future hearings.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing that lasted less than 50 minutes,Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the premier had asked the Supreme Court to address the government’s concerns regarding the case.

“The Prime Minister appeared in court and presented his viewpoint and said he was committed to take steps to resolve the matter,” he said.

The Law Ministry’s draft letter to the Swiss authorities will be presented to court and then finalised,Kaira said.

“The matter will be resolved and the atmosphere of uncertainty will end. It is not good for the country’s system if the Prime Minister repeatedly appears in court,” he added.

This was Ashraf’s second appearance in the apex court to face the contempt charge.

At the last hearing on August 27,a five-judge bench accepted Ashraf’s plea for more time to address the issue.

Ashraf’s predecessor,Gilani,was convicted of contempt and disqualified in June.

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