Pak PM Gilani charged for contempt, pleads not guilty

Pakistan`s embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was on Monday indicated by the Supreme Court for contempt of court over his refusal to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Islamabad: In a first, Pakistan`s embattled
Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani was on Monday indicted for contempt by
the Supreme Court for failing to reopen graft cases against
the President, but he pleaded not guilty to charges which may
cost him his job and plunge the nation into further disarray.

Dressed in a dark suit with grey tie, 59-year-old Gilani
personally drove in his white SUV to the Supreme Court to be
charged with contempt for defying its order for two years to
revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

As Gilani stood at a podium in the courtroom, Justice
Nasir-ul-Mulk, who headed the seven-judge bench, read out the
two-page charge sheet and asked him whether he had gone
through the charges against him and understood them.

To this, Gilani responded by saying, "Yes, I have read
the charge sheet and have understood them."

"Do you plead guilty?" asked Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk.
"No," Gilani replied.

If convicted, Gilani could face up to six months in jail
and would be disqualified to hold public office for 5 years.

The court has directed Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul
Haq to prosecute the case, giving him until February 16 to
file documents.

It set a February 22 date for the next hearing and
asked the defence to file evidence by February 27, which will
then be recorded on February 28. Following this, a date is
expected to be set for Gilani`s trial.

In its order, the bench said: "You, Syed Yousuf Raza
Gilani, have willfully flouted, disregarded and disobeyed the
directions" from the apex court to revive graft cases against
Zardari in Switzerland. "Thereby you have committed contempt
of court ... and you are to be tried."

Gilani, who became the first serving Prime Minister to be
charged with contempt, however, will be exempted from
personally appearing in future hearings.

The Premier said he would respond to the charges in a
written statement.

The indictment paving the way for Gilani`s trial, marks
another chapter to the over two-year long confrontation
between the government and the judiciary over the issue of the
graft amnesty to politicians.

Legal experts have said Gilani could be imprisoned for
six months if he is convicted and face possible

However, reports have suggested that the President could
pardon him after his possible conviction.

After the hearing which lasted for 30 minutes,
Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters outside
the court, "According to us, the President has immunity. As
long as he has immunity, the letter cannot be written (to the
Swiss authorities)."

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar too insisted
that Zardari was protected by the immunity provided by the

"The President has immunity as long as there is the
Constitution and as long as the Parliament does not make
amendments in the Constitution," he told the media.

The ruling PPP, which is headed by Zardari, has "always
respected the Constitution, law and judiciary," Babar said.

"We will continue respecting them as we did in the
past. PPP has seen many such ups and downs in the past but
our political caravan kept moving forward. There is no need to
worry over these developments, everything will be alright," he
said while referring to the court`s order.

However, opposition leaders like PML-N chief Nawaz
Sharif and Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf insisted
that the government should act on the apex court`s orders to
reopen the cases against Zardari and to bring back the money
he had allegedly laundered in Switzerland.

Khan contended that Gilani should resign following
his indictment.

He told reporters in Karachi that his party would stand
with the Supreme Court and insist on the implementation of its

The apex court has been pressuring the government to
reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari in
Switzerland since December 2009, when it struck down a graft
amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf that
benefited the President and over 8,000 others.

The ruling PPP has argued that the cases cannot be
reopened as the President enjoys complete immunity in the
country and abroad.

The PPP has been reluctant to act because top leaders
believe any action on the cases in Switzerland could give the
Supreme Court an opportunity to interpret the Constitutional
provision related to presidential immunity.

The apex court last week rejected Gilani`s appeal
against the summons issued to him in the contempt case.

The Premier has said he would automatically be
disqualified as a Parliamentarian if he is convicted by the

Asked during an interview with Al-Jazeera if he would
stand down on being convicted, Gilani said: "Certainly, then
there is no need to step down. If I am convicted, then I`m not
even supposed to be a member of Parliament."

Gilani reiterated that the President enjoyed complete
immunity inside Pakistan and abroad.

Gilani drove out of his official residence, located a
short distance from the Supreme Court, in a motorcade on a
gloomy morning as heavy rains poured down. The motorcade
stopped on the road outside the court and Gilani personally
drove his white SUV up to the porch of the building.

The Premier waved to the crowd outside the apex court as
scores of heavily-armed security personnel stood guard.

Authorities used a helicopter to mount surveillance as
part of special security measures put in place for Gilani`s
second appearance in court for the contempt case.

Gilani first appeared before the bench hearing the case
on January 19 along with his lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, a senior
PPP leader and one of the country`s leading legal minds.

During today`s hearing, Ahsan informed the court that he
would be unavailable till February 21 as he would be occupied
with scrutiny of his nomination papers for polls to the Senate
or upper house of Parliament and a private visit to London.

Gilani sat between ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan and
PML-Q head Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain inside courtroom number 4,
while several federal ministers sat in the rows behind him.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Gilani`s bodyguards
took him out through a side entrance due to security concerns.

Emerging from the court, PPP spokesman Qamar Zaman Kaira
told the media that Gilani was "not guilty and this will
be proved in court." Gilani was "the Prime Minister and he
will remain the Prime Minister," he said.

"We are in a difficult position. For the first time a
Prime Minister of Pakistan has been charged. It`s a sad day in
the history of Pakistan," Kaira said.

Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah, tipped as a
possible replacement for Gilani, told reporters that a
decision will be made on writing a letter to Swiss authorities
by the PPP after the apex court gives its order.