Pakistan’s president under fire as Supreme Court demands action on graft charge

By Chris Brummitt, AP
Monday, September 27, 2010

Pakistan court orders government to probe graft

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday again ordered the government to ask Swiss authorities to reopen a money-laundering case against the president, raising the stakes in a case that has triggered speculation over the future of the Western-backed administration.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry told government lawyers they must fully implement a December court order striking down an amnesty protecting President Asif Ali Zardari and hundreds of other officials from prosecution on long-shelved graft cases.

“There should not be any argument,” he told a hearing at the Supreme Court. “We are insisting that this judgment be implemented in letter and sprit.”

The government has been accused of dragging its feet since the order was issued because it means exposing the president and several of his political allies to possible corruption charges. Zardari’s supporters insist he is innocent against what they say were politically motivated charges.

They also maintain he has immunity as president, something most independent analysts agree the constitution is clear about. But Zardari, who spent at least eight years in prison on unproved corruption charges, appears to be unwilling to test this in court, fearing perhaps Chaudhry might rule otherwise.

The case against Zardari is further complicated by the fact that it concerns conviction in a Geneva court in 2003 of laundering millions of Swiss francs. Authorities there dropped the case in 2008 after the Pakistani government, acting on the amnesty, asked them to.

The court is demanding Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani write to Swiss authorities to reopen the case. He is refusing to do this, raising the prospect he could be held in contempt of court.

Chaudhry agreed to a request by the lawyers for an adjournment, telling them they must return to the court on Oct. 13 with an explanation of what they have done to implement the order. He mentioned the Swiss case by name, as he has done on several occasions before.

The run-up to Monday’s hearing followed weeks of criticism against the government for its handling of this summer’s floods. The army, which has ruled Pakistan for much of its 57 years, has been praised for its response to the disaster, something some commentators have said means it is better suited to ruling the nation — although the previous military-led government fell in 2008 after protracted protests against it.

Both issues have triggered fresh speculation, mostly in media outlets hostile to Zardari, that he and/or the 2 1/2 year-old coalition government headed by his party may be on its way out. Only one other democratically elected government in Pakistan’s history has lasted a full five years in office.

“Those people talking about such things will be disappointed,” Gilani said Monday in response to a question. “The government will stay and complete its five years.”

will not be displayed