A fresh twist to the prime minister contempt case has brought to the fore a cold war between the premier’s counsel Aitzaz Ahsan and former law minister Dr Babar Awan.
Aitzaz has recently asked the court to summon three key witnesses in the case – including Awan and two high-ranking bureaucrats. However, Awan is reported to have promptly refused to appear – despite many saying that his testimony would make the prime minister’s case stronger.
The catch is that Awan, who is the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) vice president, could himself come in the line of fire. Awan is already in hot water with the judiciary – facing a contempt case of his own.
Away from the media, the premier’s counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, and former law minister Awan already are speaking against each other on the issue.
Many in the prime minister’s camp are already upset with Awan.
“Awan and [Secretary Law Masood] Chishti are responsible for incorrectly advising Gilani on this issue (write a letter to Swiss authorities for reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari),” an official closely involved with the case said in an off-the-record discussion with The Express Tribune. “Awan, in a summary, had advised Gilani that the government should not write a letter to Swiss authorities,” the official said.
That summary would be presented before a larger bench of the apex court next week if the bench accepts Aitzaz’s application to summon all three witnesses – Chishti, Awan and Defense and Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi – to record their statements.
“The prime minister had only agreed with [Awan’s] proposal,” the official added.
The former law minister, however, has refused to appear before the court in this case, as has Chishti, arguing that they had appeared on the prime minister’s behalf in the case.
“Awan refused to become a shield for Gilani,” the official said.
Legal experts, on condition of anonymity, said if incorrect advice was furnished by the law ministry to the prime minister, then he is bound to act upon the same in light of Rules of Business, 1973.
“The responsibility then falls on the law ministry which initiated the summary in Sep 2010,” an expert said.
The court, which already has asked Sethi to appear before it, may adopt coercive measures, like bailable arrest warrants, to ensure Awan and Chishti’s attendance, he added.
This stance was seconded by Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio.
Both [Awan and Chishti] are responsible for sending a summary to the prime minister, advising him to not write a letter to the Swiss government, he said on Tuesday.
A senior lawyer, however, said that regardless of the law minister’s advice, the ultimate responsibility lay with the premier, since he is the chief executive of the government.
“The relevant rules bar a lawyer from appearing as a witness before a court where he has already argued the same case as a lawyer,” the local media reported on Tuesday.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.
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