Pakistan’s president ‘immune’ to Swiss probe

Pakistan's prime minister on Thursday told the country's top court that the president enjoys immunity, defending himself against contempt charges for refusing to ask the Swiss to re-open graft cases.

“I have come today to show my respect to this court,” Yousuf Raza Gilani told the Supreme Court in a statement. “It will not give a good message to proceed against a president who is elected by a two-thirds majority.”

“There is complete immunity for head of states everywhere,” Gilani told the seven judges presiding over the case.

“I have discussed this with my friends and experts, and they all agree that he has got complete immunity,” Gilani added.

The government has always argued that as head of state, President Asif Ali Zardari enjoys immunity from office and has therefore refused court demands to write to the Swiss authorities to re-open long-standing corruption cases.

Exasperated by that refusal, the Supreme Court summoned Gilani to appear on Thursday to face contempt of court proceedings, plunging the weak government deeper into a series of crises likely to force early elections within months.

Analysts say Gilani has to either resign or find a way of satisfying the court order if he wants to keep his job.

Tainted by corruption allegations, Zardari is nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent” and spent 11 years in jail on charges ranging from corruption to murder, although his supporters point out that he was never convicted on those charges.

In 2007, Pakistan’s then military ruler Pervez Musharraf imposed an amnesty on corruption cases facing his political opponents, which the courts then overturned in late 2009.

In 2008, Swiss authorities shelved a probe into alleged money laundering by Zardari and his late wife, Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.

The couple were suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder about 12 million dollars in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in Pakistan in the 1990s.

A Swiss prosecutor has since said it would be “impossible” to reopen the case against Zardari since he benefits from immunity as a head of state.

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Swiss refuse graft probe of Pakistan’s leader

Swiss prosecutors announced Friday that they had refused to reopen a probe into alleged corruption in the 1990s by current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his late wife Benazir Bhutto.

Swiss refuse graft probe of Pakistan's leader
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Photo: AFP

Prosecutors in Geneva said that the decision was taken on February 4 this year, and that they had only opted to make it public as a result of street protests in Pakistan.

They declined to comment in detail, but the Swiss news portal published photographs of anti-Zardari protestors burning Switzerland's flag at a rally in Pakistan.

Zardari and Bhutto were alleged to have siphoned $12 million in state cash in the 1990s, when he was a government minister and she was premier.

Bhutto lost office in 1996, and a year later Pakistan made a formal request for Swiss legal help in a probe of the couple and Bhutto's mother Nusrat Bhutto.

Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates in 1997, returning in 2007, only to be assassinated in a bomb attack on an election rally the same year.

Weeks before Bhutto was killed, Pakistan had withdrawn its request for help from the Swiss, and Geneva investigators formally closed their side of the probe in 2008.

Zardari, meanwhile, was arrested in Pakistan on graft charges after his wife's government fell, before being freed in 2004, going into exile in the United Arab Emirates, then returning after Bhutto's death.

He was elected president in 2008.

In November 2012, however, Pakistan's government renewed its request for Swiss legal assistance after being ordered to do so by its own supreme court.

Geneva prosecutors underlined Friday that no new evidence had emerged since the case was dropped in 2008, meaning they could not reopen the investigation.

In addition, the fact that the alleged offences took place more than 15 years ago meant that the statute of limitations had expired, they said.

They also complained about mixed messages from Pakistan.

Just a month after filing the renewed request, Pakistan sent them a letter stating that the call for a revived probe was linked to domestic politics and that there was no need to heed it.

That amounted to abuse of the legal system, prosecutors said.