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Pakistani Prime Minister charged with contempt

The Supreme Court had ordered the PM to reopen an old corruption case against the president – but he refused.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani waves upon his arrival at the Supreme Court for a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan today
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani waves upon his arrival at the Supreme Court for a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan today
Image: AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

THE PAKISTAN SUPREME Court has charged the country’s prime minister with contempt for defying its order to reopen an old corruption case against the president, sharpening a political crisis that has shaken this already volatile country.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pleaded not guilty today. If convicted, he could be imprisoned and will likely lose his job. But analysts said the premier seems willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his party and his political ally, President Asif Ali Zardari.

The case has distracted the government from dealing with a host of ills facing the nuclear-armed country, including a stuttering economy and a vicious Islamist insurgency.

The political turmoil has also been a problem for the United States because it wants Pakistan to focus on repairing troubled bilateral relations and help negotiate peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Gilani drove himself and his lawyer to court, an apparent attempt to show humility to the judges. Security was tight, with helicopters buzzing through the rainy, overcast sky and hundreds of police blocking roads leading to the court building in the capital, Islamabad.

One of the judges, Nasirul Mulk, read out the contempt charge, saying Gilani had “willfully flouted, disregarded and disobeyed the directions of this court.”

The prime minister, who was surrounded by his Cabinet members and coalition partners, said he understood the charge and would contest it. The move was the formal start to a process that will take months or weeks to conclude. The next session will be on 22 February.

Court supporters have applauded the judges for upholding the rule of law. But government loyalists accuse the chief justice of pursuing a personal vendetta against president, or of acting on behalf of the army to topple the government.


The case against Zardari relates to kickbacks he and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, allegedly received from Swiss companies when Bhutto was in power in the 1990s. They were found guilty in absentia in a Swiss court in 2003.

Zardari appealed, but Swiss prosecutors dropped the case after the Pakistani parliament passed an ordinance giving the president and others immunity from old corruption cases that many agreed were politically motivated.

The bill was decried by many in Pakistan, who saw it as an attempt to subvert the law. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2009, and also ordered the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities requesting they reopen the case. The government has refused, saying the president enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office.

“The case has been very destabilizing because it has increased uncertainty, and the government is always worried about its survival,” said Pakistani political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi. “A government whose performance is poor has become poorer.”

Rizvi and other analysts said Gilani seems unlikely to bend to the court’s demands and will likely be convicted and lose his job. The national assembly would then vote for a new prime minister, but the process could drag for months.

“Gone are the days when workers would sacrifice,” Gilani said during a speech Saturday. “Now it’s time for the leaders to sacrifice.”

Most legal experts think the president would be in no immediate danger even if Gilani did ask Swiss authorities to reopen the case.

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Associated Press

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