Pakistan SC Indicts Gilani For Contempt

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ISLAMABAD – The political turmoil in Pakistan deepened on Monday with the supreme court indicting prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for contempt of court for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against president Asif Ali Zardari.

The verdict escalates the confrontation between the executive and the judiciary that could lead to Gilani’s ouster from office. Reading out the two-page chargesheet, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk , heading the seven-member bench, said the PM had “willfully flouted, disregarded and disobeyed” SC orders over re-opening the money-laundering cases against Zardari.

Gilani pleaded not guilty and said he will defend himself . “Do you accept the chargesheet ?” Mulk asked Gilani. “No,” replied Gilani. “I will reply to the chargesheet in writing. I will defend myself,” the PM added. The clash has rocked the balance of power between Pakistan’s fragile institutions -the army, the executive and the judiciary. The court ordered the attorney general to begin prosecution, giving him time until Thursday to file documents which the court will examine on February 22. It also directed Gilani’s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan to submit the relevant documents for his client’s defence before February 27.

Gilani will defend the charges against him on February 28 when the court will take up the hearing, which is three days before the March 2 senate elections in which ruling PPP is expected to win a near-majority . Gilani was exempt from appearing in the court until further notice. The 25-minute hearing was conducted under strict security. Upon conviction , Gilani faces up to six months in jail and possible disqualification from holding any public office.