Gilani defends Zardari amid SC pressure to reopen graft cases
Last Updated: Saturday, September 25, 2010, 00:26
Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday mounted a strong defence of the Pakistani President and asserted that Asif Ali Zardari enjoyed immunity from prosecution, amid stepped up pressure from the Supreme Court to reopen graft cases in Switzerland against him.

Gilani said his government has always respected and implemented the apex court's verdicts but made it clear that no action could be taken against Zardari till he remained in the office of President.

The constitution approved by parliament has a provision that gives immunity to the President, Gilani said while speaking in the Senate or upper house of parliament.

Authorities can decide on reopening the corruption cases against Zardari when his immunity ends after he completes his tenure in another two-and-half years, he said.

Gilani said the parliament alone could withdraw the immunity granted to the President if it desires.

"(I) request that we give respect to the institutions. Giving respect to the institutions doesn't mean only respect for the judiciary.

"What about parliament and other institutions? We respect all institutions but under the ambit of the constitution," he said.

The President, he asserted, is part of parliament and the supreme commander of the armed forces. The parliament would be incomplete without the President, he said.

Gilani also took a dig at his detractors who have been calling for a change of government, saying they were "running after a black cat in a dark room".

Political circles have been abuzz with speculation about a change in the corridors of power following the Pakistan People's Party-led government's inept handling of devastating floods and other issues.

In the past few days, the Supreme Court has stepped up pressure on government functionaries to ask the Prime Minister to approve a move to reopen graft cases in Switzerland against Zardari.

The apex court says this should be done as part of the implementation of its verdict striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a graft amnesty that benefited Zardari.

During a hearing on the issue today, a bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said Prime Minister Gilani is a "wise man" and should be aware of the "consequences" of not approving the move to reopen the cases against Zardari.

The Attorney General, who represented the government, sought time till Monday to submit the administration's views in court.

However, media reports said the law ministry had sent a formal proposal to the premier which said the cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari could not be reopened as he enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

Pakistani Law Minister Babar Awan told the media that the graft cases were a "past and closed transaction" and the government was bound to act in line with the law and the constitution.

On the other hand, main opposition PML-N chief and former premier Nawaz Sharif today said the issue of the President’s immunity should be decided by the apex court.

"The Supreme Court alone should decide on this. It is the only institution which can decide the issue of whether the President has immunity or not," he told a news conference in Lahore.

Sharif said he was with the Supreme Court on the issue of implementing the verdict scrapping the NRO.

"There is no doubt that the Supreme Court's order must be accepted at any cost," he said.

While defending the President, Gilani said he would ask all persons who benefited from the NRO and are now holding government positions to voluntarily resign.

The Prime Minister said he had also directed the Law Ministry to furnish its views and recommendations on the matter.


First Published: Saturday, September 25, 2010, 00:26

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