Islamabad: In a major blow to beleaguered Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Supreme Court today rejected his appeal, asking him to appear before it on February 13 to frame of contempt charges for not reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
“Our appeal was rejected. As a result of this, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will be charged for contempt of court on February 13. Inshallah, the Prime Minister will appear (in court) on February 13,” Gilani’s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters outside the court.
Gilani had cited precedents in India and other countries to move a plea in the court against its order summoning him for framing contempt charges.
An eight-judge led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry rejected the appeal soon after the premier’s lawyer concluded his arguments this morning.
Ahsan reiterated that Gilani had done no wrong by not reviving the cases against Zardari as the President enjoyed immunity from prosecution within Pakistan and abroad.
Gilani, 59, will now have to appear before another seven-judge bench on February 13 to be charged with contempt of court for defying its order to write to the Swiss government to reopen the cases against Zardari.
The Prime Minister, who had earlier appeared before the court on January 19, had pleaded that the President enjoys immunity and as such the cases cannot be reopened against him.
The SC bench had on February 2 summoned him for the framing of charges.
If Gilani is convicted for contempt, he could be jailed for six months and barred from holding public office.
Ahsan had defended the premier’s actions during a marathon six-hour hearing in the apex court yesterday.
He resumed his arguments this morning and said Gilani had only acted on the advice of his legal aides, but the Chief Justice insisted that Ahsan should clearly tell the Prime Minister that he had to act on the court’s orders.
When Ahsan sought 10 to 15 more days to consult the premier, the bench said it was willing to give him 10 minutes.
Shortly after this, the bench issued a short order rejecting Gilani’s appeal.
The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to revive 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.
The government has refused to reopen the cases, saying the Constitution gives the President complete immunity from prosecution in criminal cases in Pakistan and abroad.
During yesterday’s proceedings, the Chief Justice said the contempt proceedings against Gilani would automatically end if the premier wrote a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against Zardari.
The person involved in these cases is the head of the Prime Minister’s party but no one is above the law, the Chief Justice said.
Besides Switzerland, the government will also have to approach other countries to revive graft cases, the Chief Justice indicated.
Commentators have accused the apex court of bias, saying it had taken virtually no action against the more than 8,000 other people who had benefited from Musharraf’s graft amnesty.