Pak letters on Zardari graft cases not yet sent to Switzerland

Last Updated: Thursday, April 1, 2010 - 19:46

Islamabad: Pakistan`s Supreme Court on Thursday
directed the government to complete formalities for reopening
graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland
by April 5 following a startling revelation that letters in
this regard were yet to be dispatched to Swiss authorities.

A day after the chief of Pakistan`s anti-corruption
agency told the apex court that two letters had been sent to
the Swiss prosecutor and other authorities to reopen the
cases, Law Secretary Aqil Mirza informed a seven-member bench
headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that the letters
were at his home and had not been sent to Switzerland.
The Chief Justice then remarked that functionaries of the
Law Ministry were "not interested" in implementing the apex
court`s judgement that struck down a controversial graft
amnesty and directed authorities to reopen thousands of
anti-corruption cases, including those against Zardari.

He asked the Law Secretary to complete the process for
reopening the cases in Switzerland by tomorrow.

However, Mirza sought more time for the purpose, saying
it was a "sensitive matter" and he had to examine many
documents.

The bench accepted his plea and gave the government time
till April 5 to complete the process.

Chief Justice Chaudhry directed the Law Secretary,
Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan and Abid Zubairi, counsel
for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the
anti-corruption agency, to jointly resolve all issues related
to reopening the Swiss cases.

The bench also directed the Law Secretary to submit a
detailed report on the matter by April 5.

The Chief Justice said the government would have to take
"ownership" of the procedure for reopening the graft cases.
There was much drama during today`s proceedings in the
suo motu case initiated by the apex court regarding the
implementation of its verdict striking down the National
Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty issued by
ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf as part of a secret
understanding with Zardari`s slain wife, former premier
Benazir Bhutto.

Earlier in the day, the apex court raised objections to
steps taken by NAB to reopen cases against Zardari in
Switzerland and directed the government to send a fresh letter
to Swiss officials with the Prime Minister`s approval.

Though the apex court set 1 pm as the deadline for this
new letter to be sent to Switzerland, it was overtaken by
subsequent developments.

During questioning by the bench, Attorney General Khan
told the judges that he was facing "obstacles" and was not
being allowed to work properly. He also said he had not been
provided many documents he required from the Law Ministry.

On being asked by the judges who was creating the
obstructions, Khan named the Law Ministry, Law Secretary Mirza
and Law Minister Babar Awan, a close aide of Zardari.

The court then summoned Law Secretary Mirza, who denied
Awan was creating obstructions in reopening the Swiss cases.
Mirza said he was surprised by the Attorney General`s
statements and that he had spoken to Awan, who said he neither
met nor spoke to the Attorney General for the past week.

Mirza then told the court that the NAB Chairman`s sealed
letters to Swiss authorities to reopen the cases were lying at
his home. He said he had received three letters very late last
night from the Foreign Ministry.

One of the letters was addressed to him while the other
two were sealed letters meant for the Swiss authorities, he
said.

The Foreign Ministry had sought the Law Ministry`s advice
on the NAB Chairman`s request that the two sealed letters
should be delivered to the Swiss authorities by a diplomatic
bag, Mirza said, adding he had kept these letters at his home.

Yesterday, Geneva Prosecutor Daniel Zappelli said he
could not reopen cases in Switzerland against Zardari as he
enjoys "absolute immunity" as a head of state.

"We could go further only if the competent authorities in
Pakistan decide to lift the immunity of the head of state,
which I do not know whether it is possible according to their
Constitution," Zappelli told the media yesterday.

He said it would be "impossible" to revive the cases if
the immunity was not waived.

Zardari and his late wife were found guilty in absentia
by a Geneva court in 2003 of laundering millions of dollars.
They were given six-month sentences and fined but both
punishments were suspended when they appealed.

Swiss authorities abandoned the cases against them in
2008 after the Pakistani authorities asked them to do so.

The cases were among over 8,000 anti-corruption cases
that were closed under the NRO.

The apex court`s tough stand on the issue reflects the
stand-off between Zardari and Chief Justice Chaudhry, whom the
President had refused to reinstate for over a year after he
was deposed by Musharraf during the November 2007 state of
emergency.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 - 19:46

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