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Swiss refuse to reopen Zardari graft case

He has immunity as head of state

Gulf News

Islamabad: Swiss authorities have declined to reopen a decades-old money-laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari, in reply to a letter sent by the Pakistan government three months ago, the state-raun radio reported on Sunday.

In a meeting with President Zardari at the newly-built Bilawal House in Lahore, Law Minister Farooq H. Naek briefed him about the contents of the reply from the Swiss government.

Naek said Swiss authorities refused to reopen the case against President Zardari, thus upholding the stance of the Pakistan government, according to the official radio station.

Sources said the Swiss attorney general had stated in the reply that the case could not be reopened because it had become time-barred under the Swiss law. Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a statement the reply showed that his decision not to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the case was right.

The Supreme Court had convicted Gilani in April last year of contempt of court for disobeying the court’s order to write the letter to the Swiss authorities and was later ousted from his position.

But his successor Raja Pervez Ashraf saved himself from meeting the same fate by complying with the court order and sending a letter based on a text approved by the court, which ended a three-year tussle between the government and the top judiciary.

The letter asked the Swiss authorities to reopen the case but at the same time emphasised the legal protection and immunity available to the president under the country’s constitution and the international law.

The development could draw a line under a three-year row that has pitted Pakistan’s top court against the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), cost a prime minister his job and threatened to bring down the government before the end of its term.

Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were accused of using Swiss banks to launder $12 million (Dh44 million) in alleged kickbacks.

Pakistan’s top court spent nearly three years demanding the coalition government led by Zardari’s PPP ask the Swiss to reopen the cases, before the politicians finally agreed.

The tussle cost prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani his job in June last year, when the Supreme Court convicted him of contempt for refusing to obey its orders to write to the Swiss, forcing him out of office.

Critics argued that the court’s dogged pursuit of the Swiss cases amounted to a political campaign against the PPP-led coalition government, and said the case had contributed to political instability in the restive, nuclear-armed state.

After Gilani’s removal as prime minister there were fears that his successor Raja Pervez Ashraf could suffer the same fate, and that the government could fall before completing its five-year term in March.

As far back as March 2010, Swiss prosecutors pointed out that it was impossible to reopen cases against Zardari while he was president.

The PPP is facing a tough fight in the general election, which is expected in the coming months. Should it lose Zardari might lose the presidency and his immunity from prosecution, since the president is elected by parliament.

Political analyst Hasan Askari said the news from Switzerland meant the chapter was closed for now, but warned the opposition would still use the issue to attack the PPP as polls approach.

“It solved their current problem. It has saved the PPP from the propaganda that they did not abide by the supreme court verdict,” he said.

“But during the election campaign the opposition will continue to raise the issue of corruption.”