PPP may ask Swiss authorities to revive graft cases

Lahore: The ruling Pakistan People`s Party has started deliberations on writing to Swiss authorities for reviving graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in a bid to deflect growing pressure on the government from the Supreme Court.

Days before a bench of the apex court begins hearing the case related to the reopening of corruption cases against Zardari and 8,000 others, the National Accountability Bureau on Friday arrested three top bureaucrats who benefited from a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

The PPP`s top leadership, in its last meeting, had reiterated that the President had immunity from prosecution under the constitution and the government would not write to Swiss authorities to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari.

However, following the Supreme Court`s warning that it could act against the President and Prime Minister for failing to revive the corruption cases, the PPP`s top leadership has been advised by some of its coalition partners and senior PPP leaders to give a second thought to approaching the Swiss authorities, sources told PTI.

The graft cases against Zardari and the others were closed under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by Musharraf. The apex court struck down the NRO in 2009 and has been pressuring the government to revive these cases.

A larger bench of the Supreme Court will resume hearing the NRO issue on January 16 and the judges has expected to give a decisive ruling.

There is speculation that the court may ask the military, which too is engaged in a standoff with the government, to help implement its verdicts.

According to a lawyer who is part of the PPP`s legal team, the party leadership has finally agreed to start discussing the pros and cons of writing a letter to the Swiss authorities.

"The leadership has asked Senate Chairman Farooq H Naek, Punjab Governor Latif Khosa, Law Minister Moula Bakhsh Chandio, former law minister Babar Awan and senior leader Aitzaz Ahsan to give their inputs about writing the letter," said the lawyer who did not wish to be named.

Naek, Khosa, Awan and Ahsan are among Pakistan`s leading lawyers and have often advised the PPP?s top leadership on legal matters.

The lawyer further said that as pressure continued to mount on the government for reopening the corruption cases closed under NRO, there might be a situation in the coming days when the PPP is left with no option but to write the letter to Swiss authorities.

He said there was a section of PPP lawyers which is in favour of writing the letter as it believed there would be no legal implications for the President.

"Many in the party think it will be a mere formality but the government`s gesture will calm down the apex court," he said.

The hawks in the PPP, however, are against writing the letter. They are of the view that the government`s act will amount to a "trial of former premier Benazir Bhutto`s grave" and cause "huge embarrassment" to the government and President.

Bhutto was among the beneficiaries of the NRO. Supreme Court`s lawyer Khurram Latif Khosa said the Swiss Attorney General had already informed the Pakistan government that Swiss authorities could not try a person who had diplomatic or constitutional immunity.

"In this situation, there will be no outcome of the inquiry against the President and we wonder why the apex court is pressing the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities despite having a complete knowledge of the immunity the constitution gives to the President," he said.

Khosa said the Supreme Court had directed all departments to follow the law and the Constitution and what the government was doing in the issue came absolutely under the ambit of the law and the Constitution.

"Legally speaking, writing the letter to the Swiss authorities will be a futile exercise. It will, in fact, be an embarrassment for the whole nation as the world will laugh at us," Khosa said.