Pakistan’s Supreme Court today summoned Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to appear before it on February 13,when he will be formally charged with contempt of court for failing to act on the court’s orders to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
A seven-judge bench led by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk issued the order this afternoon after hearing arguments from Gilani’s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan,who argued that the premier had not committed contempt by acting on the apex court’s orders as the President had complete immunity from prosecution within Pakistan and abroad.
If Gilani is convicted in the contempt case,he will be disqualified from holding any public office for five years.
He will also have the right to appeal any order convicting him within a period of 30 days.
“The court has ordered the framing of charges against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for contempt of court on February 13. He will be present in court,” Ahsan told reporters outside the Supreme Court.
“My advice to my client will be to appeal the decision but he will have to decide…We have the option to appeal,” Ahsan said in response to questions from journalists.
If an intra-court appeal is filed,an appellate bench could decide to suspend the order,he said.
Gilani had personally appeared before the bench when it first took up the contempt case on January 19 but he was exempted from further hearings.
The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari in Switzerland after it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance,a graft amnesty passed by former President Pervez Musharraf,in December 2009.
In his arguments,Ahsan contended that the premier had done nothing wrong by deciding not to act on the court’s order to reopen graft cases against Zardari.
Ahsan,one of Pakistan’s top legal minds,and the seven-judge bench repeatedly sparred on various technical issues related to the President’s immunity and Gilani’s actions.
Ahsan maintained that the President had complete immunity from prosecution in Pakistan and abroad and the government could not ask foreign authorities to act against him.
The bench said the government should have acted on the apex court’s order to write to Swiss authorities to revive cases against Zardari and then invoked the defence of presidential immunity.