SC indicts Gilani in contempt case


Prime VIP
Staff member
SC indicts Gilani in contempt case
l Pak PM pleads not guilty
l If convicted, he faces up to six months in jail
l May be disqualified to hold public office for life
Afzal Khan in Islamabad

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was on Monday indicted for contempt of court by refusing to write to Swiss authorities seeking reopening of the money-laundering case against President Asif Zardari.

Pleading not guilty to charges that could see him jailed for six months and disqualified from office, Gilani told the court he contests the charge. He is Pakistan’s first premier ever to be charged in office.

Responding to a request by Gilani’s counsel, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, a seven-member bench led by Justice Nasirul Mulk allowed two weeks time to defend the case on February 28. Aitzaz said he would be busy with other cases in Lahore and abroad and would be able to plead the case after February 24.

Summoned over the government’s two-year refusal to write the letter, Gilani, who entered the court dressed in a dark suit, grey tie, white shirt and cufflinks, was called to the rostrum to hear charges. Reading out a two-page charge sheet, Judge Nasir ul-Mulk said the Prime Minister had “wilfully flouted, disregarded and disobeyed” orders from the Supreme Court over re-opening alleged laundered money cases.

“Do you plead guilty?” asked Mulk.

“No,” Gilani replied, adding that he would contest the case and respond further in writing.

Setting a timeline for contempt proceedings, the court ordered the Attorney-General to prosecute the case, giving him until Thursday to file documents, which the court will examine on February 22, and the defence until February 27 to file documents and a list of witnesses.

Evidence from Gilani’s lawyer will then be recorded on February 28, three days before March 2 Senate elections, at which the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is expected to win a near-majority of seats.

Gilani was exempted from appearing in court until further notice.

He was flanked by top leaders of two coalition partners, Asfandyar Wali Khan of the ANP and Chaudhry Shujaat of the PML-Q.

Another major ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was, however, missing though it did attend a late night meeting with President Zardari who sought support from all coalition partners at this difficult moment.

Legal experts said the court and the Prime Minister face a gridlock with the former insisting that the letter would have to be written while Gilani saying he would remain loyal to the President and the party. Unless the court accepts his plea that he cannot write the letter because the President enjoys immunity at home and abroad, the impasse will continue.

The hearing lasted less than half an hour and Gilani left soon after, waving to crowds of lawyers huddled under gloomy grey skies and a persistent drizzle.

Security was razor-tight for today’s hearing, with hundreds of riot police guarding the court and queues trailing back from checkpoints where police searched vehicles and helicopters hovering overhead.

The black-suited lawyers divided themselves into two factions, chanting support for either the government or the Supreme Court.

If convicted, Gilani faces up to six months in jail and disqualification to be elected for any office for life. The Prime Minister told a TV channel on Sunday he would have to quit office if convicted. Chaudhry Shujaat said the allies have decided to support any other PPP nominee for the office if Gilani is ousted.

Pakistan Taherik-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan demanded Gilani’s immediate resignation after being indicted saying it was his moral obligation. He said Gilani is staking his political future not for any principle but to protect rupees five billion illegal money of President Asif Zardari.

Main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif also called for writing the letter and respecting the verdict of the apex court. PPP information secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira described the occasion as “sad and painful” that country’s chief executive was being indicted. Information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan insisted that Gilani would not send the letter because it would amount to trial of “grave of Shaheed Benazir”.

Legal expert say Gilani can avoid disqualification only by writing the letter even if he is freed by the court or pardoned by the President if convicted. Anybody replacing him would also have to write the letter or face similar consequences.

Ms. Awan, however, dismissed reports that any replacement of Gilani is being contemplated.“Comments about a new prime minister are premature. The President has immunity,” the minister said.