ISLAMABAD – The Supreme Court Wednesday gave new prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf two weeks to indicate whether he would ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against the president.
On March 8, 2012, the court had directed the former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that in compliance of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) judgment write letter to the Swiss authorities, regardless of advice of secretaries and submit a compliance report.
Gilani, who contended this issue should be taken up after the decision on his contempt of court matter, was declared disqualified on June 19 by the court after it convicted him of contempt on April 26 for refusing to reopen the multi-million-dollar cases against his party boss President Zardari.
The PPP coalition elected Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as premier on Friday, after judges issued an arrest warrant for its first suggested replacement. Now five days later, Justice Nasir ul Mulk has directed the attorney general to find out how the government intends to deal with the Swiss cases and report back on July 12.
A three-member bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, hearing the non-implementation of NRO judgment Wednesday directed the AG to get instruction from the PM as to what he intends regarding implementation of para 178 of the NRO judgment.
“The new prime minister was elected last week and we trust that he will honour the direction given by this court,” Justice Nasirul Mulk said. “In the meantime we direct the attorney general to obtain instructions from the prime minister and inform the court... on the next date of the hearing on July 12,” he said.
Justice Nasir in the order dictated that in view of the non-implementation of NRO judgment show cause notice was issued to ex-prime minister and contempt of court proceedings were initiated against him for not complying with the court’s directive; ultimately he was convicted and sentenced, and resultantly was not only disqualified from the membership of National Assembly but had to quit his post.
The court hoped that the new prime minister would comply with the apex court order and write to the Swiss authorities for reopening the cases against NRO beneficiaries, including President Asif Ali Zardari. “
The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when he and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, are suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder $12 million allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts.
The Swiss shelved the cases in 2008 when Zardari became president. In 2009 the Supreme Court overturned NRO, a political amnesty, which had frozen investigations into the president and other politicians, ordering that the cases be reopened. Since then the court has been asking the PPP-led government to write to the Swiss but the government has consistently refused contending that Zardari being president enjoys constitutional immunity.
Interestingly, Gilani’s successor Raja Pervaiz Ashraf faces his own corruption allegations from his tenure as water and power minister, and many believe he will be forced out soon – either by elections or the judiciary.
Earlier, during the proceeding of the case Dr Abdul Basit, counsel for Adnan Khawaja and Ahmed Riaz Sheikh, said that his clients have been unnecessarily punished in this matter.
Adnan Khawaja was appointed first NAVTEC chairman and then OGDL chairman allegedly on the order of former PM Gilani, while Ahmed Riaz Sheikh was appointed additional DG in FIA. On court’s intervention these appointments were cancelled.
Dr Basit said the NRO judgment has been implemented fully in case of his client, as he was removed from the job, his properties were confiscated and he also returned all the emoluments. He therefore requested the court to suspend his sentence. He said the ex-PM prior to appointment had no knowledge that Khawaja was a convict.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa questioned how Mr Gilani could be unaware about Khawaja’s conviction as both were together in jail. Dr Basit said now the NAB was trying to find out who had appointed Adnan Khawaja. He contended that the court does not have the monitoring power.
NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Fozi informed the court that Shaiq Usmani, counsel for NAB chairman, is on general adjournment therefore the case be adjourned. He said that reference against former attorney general Malik Abdul Qayyum for writing letter to Swiss to close cases against NRO beneficiaries, would be sent to the Accountability Court.
Waseem Sajjad, counsel for Mr Qayyum, said his client should be exonerated from this case as a 17-member bench gave relief to his client. He said presently his client is at a London hospital and would join the investigation after his recovery. The NAB DPG said he would submit the reports about Adnan Khawaja, Imtiaz A Sheikh and Malik Qayyum on next date of hearing. The case was adjourned until July 12.