It’s a wrap.
It cost the PPP government three-odd years of standoff with the superior judiciary and a prime minister to write to make a request that they knew had little chances of being entertained.
Authorities in Switzerland declined on Saturday to reopen dormant graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who, they said, enjoys international immunity against criminal prosecution.
Pakistan’s law ministry confirmed it has received a reply from Swiss authorities to a letter sent to Geneva on the orders of the Supreme Court.
The development is likely to be a major boost for the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and President Zardari himself.
“Yes, we’ve received the letter. I’ve not gone through it since it was received over the weekend. But I’ve been told that Swiss authorities have declined to reopen these cases [against President Zardari],” Law Secretary Yasmeen Abbasi told The Express Tribune.
Under the Supreme Court orders, the government had withdrawn two letters sent by former attorney general Malik Qayum to Swiss authorities in 2007 requesting them to drop cases against President Zardari. The letters were part of a deal struck between then military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf and the PPP.
Musharraf had issued a controversial decree – the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) – dropping thousands of criminal cases against politicians and serving and retired government officials.
The ordinance was, however, challenged in the Supreme Court, which consequently struck it down and ordered the reopening of all cases.
Former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified for his contemptuous refusal of the court orders to write to the Swiss letter. His successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf, however, managed to save his office after agreeing to write the letter.
According to reports, Swiss authorities responded in French and the letter was translated to English by the government. Furthermore, reports suggested that the Swiss authorities did not entertain the request and stated that being head of the state, President Zardari enjoys international immunity.
However, Secretary Abbasi, also a former judge, said, “These cases were closed on merit. We had given references of Malik Qayum’s letters.”
But she also confirmed electronic media reports that the Swiss authorities mentioned that President Zardari enjoyed international immunity.
Abbasi censured the judiciary saying that the courts should now realise they cannot render judgments for other countries. Abbasi was among those judges sacked by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for taking oath under the 2007 provisional constitution order (PCO) of Pervez Musharraf.
Less than a shock closure
The Express Tribune had reported over a year ago that Swiss cases against President Zardari could not be reopened, even if Pakistani authorities wrote a letter to the authorities.
In a news story, published on January 6, 2012, sources had quoted the Swiss attorney general as saying in April 2010 that the cases could not be revived due to lack of incriminating evidence and immunity enjoyed by President Zardari under international law.
Furthermore, the only conviction in the case was set aside in 2003 after it was appealed by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and President Zardari.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2013.