Pak letters on Zardari graft cases not yet sent to Switzerland
Last Updated: Thursday, April 01, 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 01, 2010, 19:46


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