Islamabad, Jan 16: In a setback to the embattled Pakistani government, the Supreme Court today issued a contempt notice to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for failing to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and asked him to appear before it on January 19.
The apex court's move could push the government into deeper crisis as it is already in confrontation with the powerful military over the memo scandal.
The order was issued by a seven-judge bench led by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk that today began hearing the case related to the apex court's orders for reopening high-profile graft cases against Zardari and over 8,000 others.
The bench directed Gilani to personally appear in court to explain why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him for deliberately disregarding the court's orders.
“The Supreme Court has issued a contempt of court notice to the prime minister for not complying with its orders,” Judge Nasir-ul-Mulk told the court that was in session to debate how to proceed on the graft charges against Zardari and others who had benefited from the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance issued by Musharraf regime in 2007.
“He has been directed to appear personally on January 19,” the Judge said.
The bench noted that the Supreme Court had issued directions to the government several times to implement its orders regarding the reopening of graft cases.
However, the government had deliberately not acted on these orders, it contended.
Incidentally, the notice to Gilani marks only the second time that contempt of court procedures have been initiated against a sitting Pakistani prime minister.
Earlier in November 1997, then premier Nawaz Sharif was also found in contempt in a case.
A Supreme Court-appointed panel is also probing the memo issue and held a hearing today that remained inconclusive.
The Supreme Court today issued the order against the premier after the government's top law officer informed it that he had received no instructions regarding the order to reopen the corruption cases.
The court rebuked Attorney General Anwar-ul-Haq for failing to present the government's response to its orders to write to Swiss authorities to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against President Zardari.
The Attorney General earned the ire of the bench when he said he had conveyed the court's directions to the President, Prime Minister and other authorities but had received no directions from them.
Haq said the government was still considering the matter. Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk remarked that it was not the Attorney General's job to merely convey the court's orders to the President and Prime Minister and that he should have sought directions from the authorities on writing to the Swiss government about reviving the graft cases against Zardari.
The bench asked the Attorney General whether the government had anything at all to say on the issue as the court was free to issue orders in the case. The Attorney General merely repeated that he had received no directions as the government was still considering the matter.
The court briefly adjourned the hearing at about noon and asked Haq to seek directions from the government.
Though the law officer said the apex court could approach the High Court to ensure the implementation of its order, the bench said such a move was not necessary at the moment. When the hearing resumed, Haq again informed the bench that he had received no instructions from the government.
The bench then issued the notice for contempt of court to Gilani. The Supreme Court has been pressuring the Pakistan People's Party-led government to reopen the cases against the President 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, the graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, was unconstitutional and illegal.
Despite immense pressure from the court, the government has refused to write to Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against Zardari, saying the President enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution.
Another bench of the Supreme Court had warned in an order issued on January 10 that Prime Minister Gilani could be disqualified if he fails to reopen the graft cases.