President Asif Ali Zardari enjoys full immunity from prosecution in criminal cases in Pakistan and abroad, one of the country’s top lawyers said today ahead of a crucial hearing in the Supreme Court on the issue of reopening graft cases against the President.
Former minister Aitzaz Ahsan, who will appear as the Prime Minister’s lawyer when Yousuf Raza Gilani faces an apex court bench tomorrow over a contempt notice, also said that the premier is not guilty of contempt of court but should bow to pressure and ask Switzerland to reopen graft cases.
Ahsan said the President’s immunity had been notified and was guaranteed under the Constitution.
He further said that since the President enjoys constitutional immunity‚ therefore‚ the contempt notice against the Prime Minister is not valid.
The President’s immunity in criminal cases had been endorsed by accountability or anti-corruption courts, Ahsan said while interacting with reporters in Islamabad.
Similarly‚ cases cannot be initiated against the President in Switzerland as he enjoys immunity in that country under the Vienna Conventions, he said.
Under the Vienna Conventions, Zardari enjoys immunity as long as he holds the office of President, he said.
Since 2009, the Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen cases of alleged money laundering in Switzerland against Zardari after striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty that was issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
The government has refused to act on the court’s orders, saying the President enjoys immunity under the Constitution.
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a notice for contempt of court to Gilani for failing to revive the corruption cases and summoned him to appear in person tomorrow.
Gilani yesterday named Ahsan, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and a former president of Supreme Court Bar Association, as his lawyer.
Ahsan said he would try his best to convince the Supreme Court that the matter did not fall under the parameters of the contempt law.
Asked about his stance that Musharraf does not enjoy similar immunity‚ Ahsan said the cases against the former President were of a civil nature and immunity was not applicable to him.
In response to another question, Ahsan said there would be “no harm” if the Pakistan government writes a letter to Swiss authorities about reopening the cases against Zardari.
He explained that the cases registered against Zardari fell in the category of criminal cases and no proceedings could be initiated against him.
Asked how he would defend the premier before the apex court’s bench hearing the contempt of court notice, Ahsan said “some suspense” should remain regarding his stand on the matter.