Prime Minister exempted from Supreme Court appearance: Swiss letter to be written, after all -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Prime Minister exempted from Supreme Court appearance: Swiss letter to be written, after all

By: Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: After almost 30 months of legal squabbling with the Supreme Court over NRO implementation, the government finally blinked. To the surprise of the five-judge bench, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf authorised his law minister on Tuesday to withdraw the famous letter that led to the closing of alleged graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

However, the surprise move by the government has bewildered the legal circles as no-one is clear on what the move will mean for the cases against Mr Zardari in Swiss courts. The cases were closed when then attorney general Malik Mohammad Qayyum wrote to the Swiss authorities, seeking withdrawal of the mutual legal assistance after the proclamation of the controversial NRO on Oct 5, 2007.

The court’s insistence that this letter be withdrawn ended with the disqualification of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. A similar fate was predicted for Mr Ashraf. However, some time ago there were reports that Law Minister Farooq H. Naek was trying to negotiate a middle way which would allow for a letter to be written.

But developments in the Courtroom Four took everyone by surprise.

“After contemplating from all angles, realising its implications and considering the earlier suggestion of the court, I have authorised the law minister to withdraw the letter written by then Attorney General Malik Qayyum,” enunciated the prime minister before the bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira’s body language at the moment was a case in point; he seemed surprised.

“I am instructing the law minister in front of the bench,” the prime minister said, though he reminded the court of its assurance that it (the court) would address the concerns of the federal government.

“Our apprehensions (immunity question), I will say openly, are not about the individual capacity of President Zardari but of his office,” the prime minister explained. The prime minister also asked for and was given exemption from appearing before the court in the future.

Despite this no one is clear as to what the future will bring.

The government refuses to spill any beans.

“Only time will tell,” said Law Minister Farooq Naek when asked specifically about the fate of Swiss cases against the president after the writing of the letter. He, however, hastened to add that it was the government’s job to implement the instructions it received and that the letter would contain the reservations of the federal government.

Advocate Waqar Rana, a senior lawyer, however was sceptical about the re-opening of the cases. In his opinion, Malik Qayyum’s letter had rendered the cases in Swiss courts as past and closed transaction. This means, he explained, that the status of Pakistan as a damaged party in the cases would not be revived.

The view somehow was also endorsed by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs Fawad Chaudhry. He felt that the court had accepted the government’s stand that the president enjoyed immunity. “It’s a win-win situation both for the government as well as for the court and kind of a middle ground,” he said.

Advocate Chaudhry Ramzan, a member the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), said whether or not the new letter had the cases reopened would depend on the law of Switzerland and the international immunity available to heads of states.

Court in a mood to monitor Tuesday’s proceedings also made it clear that the SC was not going to wash its hands of the affair. Justice Khosa spelt out four steps needed for the final disposition of the matter and said the draft of the letter should be placed before the court for vetting before final approval.

The four steps the SC plans to monitor are: written authorisation by the prime minister regarding implementation of the NRO verdict; drafting of the relevant communication; dispatch of such communication to and receipt of the same by the Swiss and other authorities; and final confirmation of such receipt of the relevant communication by the concerned authorities abroad.

“We understand that taking these steps may require some time for which a timeframe needs to be determined,” Justice Khosa observed. He said the prime minister and the law minister had undertaken to produce the necessary authorisation and letter draft before the court by Sept 25.