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To prevent reopening of graft cases: President Zardari clips powers of the Supreme Court

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Message Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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Pakistan 's National Assembly Monday (July 9) approved the Contempt of Court Act aimed at shielding top leaders from contempt charges and curbing the Supreme Court's efforts to push Premier Raja Pervez Ashraf into reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. The Contempt of Court Act, which is set to be approved by the Senate shortly, was introduced in a special session of the parliament before the apex court takes up the issue of reviving graft cases against Zardari on July 12.

The Contempt of Court Bill provides blanket immunity to top government functionaries for executive actions. It can also be used to launch disciplinary proceedings against a judge without such a move coming under the ambit of contempt.

Besides protecting the powers of holders of public office mentioned in Article 248 of the Constitution, which include the president, prime minister, governors, chief ministers, federal and state ministers, the bill shields "any authority" against contempt charges.

The Contempt of Court Act also provides a cover to the action of   former Prime Minister Syed   Yousuf Raza Gilani who was sacked from office on June 19, 2012 for protecting President Asif Ali Zardari's corruption.

On April 26, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, convicted Gilani of contempt for refusing to write a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening multi-million-dollar graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The Court judgment on June 19 said that Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani has become disqualified from being a Member of the Parliament from the date (April 26, 2012) of pronouncement of the contempt of court verdict. He has also ceased to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan with effect from the said date and the office of the Prime Minister shall be deemed to be vacant accordingly, the verdict said adding: The Election Commission of Pakistan is required to issue notification of disqualification of Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani  and the President of Pakistan is required to take necessary steps under the Constitution to ensure continuation of the democratic process through parliamentary system of government in the country.

On June 22, Raja Pervez Ashraf was appointed Prime Minister who has already indicated to the media that he will not reopen the investigation against Zardari. On June 27, the Supreme Court responding to Raja Ashraf's statement gave two weeks to explain his statement. If he refuses to do so he is expected to face the same contempt of court proceedings that led to Gilani's removal.

The corrupt regime of Zardari which virtually controls both houses of parliament through bribe and cohesion decided to clip the power of the apex court.

Not surprisingly, on June 27, a three member bench of the Lahore Court headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial completed proceedings on the petitions relating to the contempt of court being committed by President Zardari by not giving up his political activities in the President House, despite the LHC full bench May 12 ruling that he (Asif Zardari) could not continue as co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, while sitting in the presidency.

The full bench had asked President Zardari to either step down as co-chairman of the PPP or stop using the presidency for politicking.

LHC CJ said that LHC is the country's constitutional court and a decision has to be taken about the constitutional head of the state, therefore, we would fix a time for compliance of the court order.

It may be pointed out that since the US-client President Zardari came into power in September 2008, he is at odd with the Supreme Court. In December 2009, Pakistan's Supreme Court had declared   the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) 2007 as unconstitutional. The NRO was part of a deal negotiated by the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to share power with the blessings of Washington. The NRO had paved the way for the return of Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) chairperson Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in December 2007.   

Under the garb of "reconciliation" former dictator-president Gen Pervez Musharraf promulgated the ordinance, to drop a number of cases in and outside Pakistan against Benazir and her husband Asif Ali Zardari who is now the President of Pakistan. The most prominent among these were the Swiss money laundering cases against Benazir and Zardari.

The court directed the government to reopen all cases withdrawn under the NRO and write a letter to the Swiss authorities for restoring graft cases President Asif Ali Zardari.

It may be recalled that in August 2003, a Swiss Court found former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her widower, Asif Zardari, guilty of money laundering. Investigation Judge Daniel Devaud sentenced them to a six-month suspended jail term, fined them $50,000 each and ordered they pay more than $2m to the Pakistani Government along with a diamond necklace. The case was related to an illegal six per cent of commission or bribe worth $12 million for awarding a pre-shipment customs inspection contract to two Swiss firms Societe Generale de Surveillance and Cotecna. The judge said they had illegally deposited millions of dollars in accounts in Switzerland and ordered the money be returned to Pakistan.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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