Islamabad: Pakistan`s Supreme Court on Thursday prepared to charge the Prime Minister with contempt of court for his failure to re-open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
"After the preliminary hearing, we are satisfied that prima facie (at first sight) there is enough case for further proceeding," the seven-member bench ordered after an intense hearing.
"The case is adjourned until February 13 for the framing of charges. The Prime Minister will be present in person."
If convicted, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani could face jail and lose his office.
A seven-judge bench led by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk issued the order this afternoon after hearing arguments from Gilani`s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, who argued that the Premier had not committed contempt by not acting on the apex court`s orders as the President had complete immunity from prosecution within Pakistan and abroad.
Gilani will have the right to appeal any order convicting him within a period of 30 days.
Ahsan told reporters outside the Supreme Court, “My advice to my client will be to appeal the decision but he will have to decide...We have the option to appeal.”
If an intra-court appeal is filed, an appellate bench could decide to suspend the order, he said. Gilani had personally appeared before the bench when it
first took up the contempt case on January 19 but he was exempted from further hearings.
The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari in Switzerland after it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty passed by former president Pervez Musharraf, in December 2009. In his arguments, Ahsan contended that the Premier had done nothing wrong by deciding not to act on the court`s order to reopen graft cases against Zardari.
Ahsan, one of Pakistan`s top legal minds, and the seven-judge bench repeatedly sparred on various technical issues related to the President`s immunity and Gilani`s actions.
Ahsan maintained that the President had complete immunity from prosecution in Pakistan and abroad and the government could not ask foreign authorities to act against him. The bench said the government should have acted on the apex court`s order to write to Swiss authorities to revive cases against Zardari and then invoked the defence of presidential immunity.
(With Agencies’ inputs)