Zardari graft: Pak govt submits to SC Swiss draft

Islamabad: Under immense pressure to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan government today submitted before the Supreme Court the draft of a letter to be sent to Swiss authorities in this regard.

Law Minister Farooq H Naek submitted the draft before a five-member apex court bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, after which the judges studied it and raised some objections before adjourning the hearing in the case till Wednesday

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had last week told the apex court that his government had decided to withdraw a letter previously sent to Swiss authorities for closing the graft cases against Zardari.

He had also assured the court that he would authorise the Law Minister to implement its previous orders for writing to the Swiss authorities.

As the court resumed hearing the case today after a week-long break, Naek submitted the draft of the letter along with an authority letter on behalf of Ashraf.

The judges adjourned the hearing briefly for 15 minutes to read the contents of the letter at their chamber. They later called the Law Minister and the government’s lawyers inside the court chamber for consultation.

The court then said the judges have seen the draft of the letter and also held consultations.

The Law Minister later said his attention was drawn to some points in the drafted letter which require consultation with the government following which he sought adjournment of the hearing for one day.

The court accepted his plea and adjourned the hearing till Wednesday.

The draft seeks the withdrawal of letters written in May 22, 2008 by the then Attorney General Malik Qayyum to Swiss authorities that Pakistan was no longer interested in pursuing graft charges against Zardari and his late wife, former Premier Benazir Bhutto.

The graft cases were shelved in 2007 after Qayyum wrote letters to the Swiss authorities following the promulgation of a controversial amnesty law by ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The Supreme Court, however, scrapped the National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2009 and declared that all cases closed under the defunct law stood open.

The PPP-led government and the judiciary have been involved in a conflict over the Swiss letter as the authorities had refused to accept all previous court orders on the plea that the President enjoyed immunity.

The apex court had disqualified Yousuf Raza Gilani as Prime Minister for his refusal to write to the Swiss authorities in June.

Prime Minister Ashraf’s statement about sending a letter to the Swiss authorities was considered as a major step toward solution to the longstanding stalemate between the government and judiciary.

Legal experts were also of the opinion that the decision was a big change in the government’s stand as it would pave the way for reopening of the cases in Swiss courts.

But some were of the view that the situation would be clear after the letter is drafted.

Several Ministers also claimed that there was no change in the government’s stance on the President’s immunity.