President enjoys immunity, Gilani tells Supreme Court

Islamabad : Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday appeared before the Supreme Court in a contempt of court case for not acting against President Asif Ali Zardari for corruption and defended his move saying that the constitution provided immunity to the president.

In what is being seen as a breather to Gilani, the case will now be heard Feb 1. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa who spoke after Gilani’s seven-minute submission in the court described it as a great day for Pakistan

Gilani said that “it will not give a good message to proceed against a president who is elected by a two-thirds majority”.

“I have discussed this with my friends and experts, and they all agree that he has got complete immunity,” Dawn quoted the prime minister as saying.

The court had issued Gilani a contempt notice Jan 16.

Gilani said he had spent six years in prison and had never been reluctant to appear before the court that shows that he always respected the court, Geo News reported.

He said former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his wife Nusrat Bhutto also appeared before the courts.

“I cannot even think of ridiculing the court and all over the world the presidents enjoy immunity and constitution of Pakistan also provides immunity to the president. That is why we did not write to Swiss authorities,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.

The apex court had warned the government of action if its ruling on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), granting immunity to politicians and bureaucrats in corruption cases, was not implemented by Jan 10, 2012.

The court had also sought reopening of cases closed under the NRO, struck down as void in 2009. It had ordered the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen cases against the president.

Zardari, accused of graft, had been granted amnesty under the NRO which was issued in 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari.

Gilani’s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan said the graft cases against Zardari could only be reopened once he was no longer the president.

He sought a month’s time to file a response. Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk responded, saying that access to records could be provided in two days’ time.

The court also exempted Gilani from appearing for the upcoming hearing of the case.

The court adjourned the case till Feb 1, giving breathing time to the prime minister who in recent days was pitted against the powerful army after he sacked the defence secretary Lt. Gen. (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi.

The prime minister, who himself drove down to the court complex, smiled and waved after coming out of the court.

Gilani is the second prime minister after Nawaz Sharif to appear before the Supreme Court. On Nov 3, 1997, Nawaz Sharif had been issued a contempt petition by then chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had in 1998 accused Zardari and the late Benazir Bhutto of awarding a pre-shipment inspection contract to the Societe Generale Surveillance (SGS). This was done in return for six percent commission on the total amount the company received from the Pakistan government, it claimed.

Earlier in August 2008, Swiss judicial authorities, acting on the request of the Pakistani government, had closed a money laundering case against Zardari and released $60 million frozen in Swiss accounts.

The Supreme Court had been converted into a virtual fortress, with the prime minister’s security having carried out a thorough scanning of the premises a day earlier.

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