Islamabad, Feb 13: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was today indicted by Pakistan's Supreme Court for contempt for refusing to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, but the embattled leader pleaded not guilty to the charges, conviction for which may cost him his job.
Gilani, 59, the first Pakistani Prime Minister to be arraigned by the apex court while in office, was summoned following his refusal for over two years to write to Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against Zardari.
At the commencement of the hearing Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, who headed the seven-judge bench, read out the two-page charge sheet and asked Gilani whether he had gone through the charges against him and understood them.
To this, Gilani responded by saying, “Yes, I have read the charge sheet and have understood them.” “Do you plead guilty?” asked Jutice Nasir-ul-Mulk.
“No,” Gilani replied.
If convicted, Gilani could face up to six months in jail and would be disqualified to hold public office for five years.
The court then directed Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq to prosecute the case, giving him until February 16 to file documents.
The court set a February 22 date for the next hearing and asked the defence to file evidence by February 27, which will then be recorded on February 28. Following this, a date is expected to be set for Gilani's trial.
The Prime Minister, however, will be exempted from personally appearing in future hearings.
The indictment paving the way for Gilani's trial, marks another chapter to the over two-year long confrontation between the government and the judiciary over the issue of the graft amnesty to politicians.
Dressed in a dark suit with a grey tie, the Prime Minister personally drove his white SUV from his official residence located at a short distance from the court and was assisted by a battery of lawyers.
The apex court last week rejected Gilani's appeal against the summons issued to him in the contempt case. The premier has said that he would automatically be disqualified as a parliamentarian if he is convicted by the court.
The motorcade stopped on the road outside the court on a gloomy morning as heavy rains poured down. On his arrival in court, Gilani waved to the crowd outside as scores of heavily armed security personnel stood guard.
Authorities used a helicopter to mount surveillance as part of the special security measures put in place for Gilani's second appearance in court for the contempt case.
The Supreme Court has been pressuring the Pakistan People's Party-led government to reopen the cases against Zardari in Switzerland since it struck down a graft amnesty that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others in December 2009.
It has declared that the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), the graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007, was unconstitutional and illegal.
Gilani was indicted over not implementing paragraph 178 of the apex court's NRO verdict.
Gilani first appeared before the bench hearing the case on January 19 along with his lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, a senior leader of the ruling PPP and one of the country's leading legal minds.
“I am going to argue that the Prime Minister is not guilty...The court will tell us how it wants to proceed.Today the charges will be framed and after that the accused will be asked for his reaction and whether he accepts the charges,” Ahsan told the media as he left his residence earlier this morning.