Par should decide Presidential immunity issue: Gilani

Islamabad: Facing immense pressure from the Supreme Court to revive graft cases against Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani today said the judiciary should let Parliament decide the Presidential immunity issue. In a reply submitted to the apex court over his indictment for contempt for failing to act on its orders to reopen corruption cases against Zardari in Switzerland, Gilani asked how the President of a sovereign country could be put at the mercy of a magistrate of a Western country?

Noting that the Supreme Court had referred cases regarding the procedure for appointing judges under the recent 18th Constitutional amendment to Parliament, he said in his 24-page reply that the issue of the immunity guaranteed to the President under the Constitution too should be referred to Parliament. Gilani`s response was submitted by his legal team two days before a seven-judge bench headed by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk resumes hearing the contempt of court case against the Premier.

The same bench has set March 21 as the deadline for Gilani to approach Swiss authorities for reopening the graft cases against Zardari. The bench had on March 8 issued an order that directed Gilani to write to Swiss authorities on reviving the cases without waiting for advice from his experts. In his response, the Premier asked the bench to take back the March 8 order that was passed in his absence.

The Supreme Court has been pushing the Pakistan People`s Party-led government to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari in Switzerland since late 2009, when it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. The government has refused to act, saying the Constitution provides complete immunity to the President within Pakistan and abroad.

Gilani recently said he would prefer to be incarcerated for committing contempt than violate the Constitution by asking Swiss authorities to revive the cases against Zardari. If Gilani is convicted in the contempt cases, he could face a six-month prison term and be disqualified. In his response, Gilani referred to a Supreme Court order of January 10 which listed six options for settling the issue of the cases against Zardari to buttress his contention that the matter should be sent to Parliament.

In the January 10 order, the apex court had said that "if in a given situation, the Executive is bent upon defying a final judicial verdict and is ready to go to any limit in such defiance, then instead of insisting upon the Executive to implement the judicial verdict and thereby running the risk of bringing down the Constitutional structure itself, this Court may exercise judicial restraint and leave the matter to the better judgement of the people of the country or their representatives in the Parliament…" Gilani said in his response that the matter of Presidential immunity is of great national interest and so the issue should be sent to Parliament.