The fate of Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari hangs in the balance as an internal rift between the Government and the judicial fraternity grows stronger by the day. For now Zardari can find respite in the constitution but a vibrant Constitutional Reforms Committee and a Supreme Court on a path of self righteousness pose the greatest threat any democratic government may ever face.
Zardari in shackles with the police
Meanwhile, the Swiss authorities are awaiting a formal request letter from the Pakistani government on reopening of the cases against the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan’s Law Ministry was directed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a judgment passed on December 16, 2009, annulling the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the NRO. It requested the reopening of cases against Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland. The Secretary for Law was summoned before a 7 member bench to review non-implementation of the order.
Zardari taking oath
The cases in point are the SGS case and the money laundering case. In the SGS Case, it is alleged by the Pakistani government that a contract was awarded by the then Senator Asif Ali Zardari to the Swiss company was illegal. The Swiss government was then requested to investigate the corruption charge in awarding the contract. Another case was a USD $60 million money laundering case where Pakistan filed a petition claiming that money illegally siphoned from the Government and other fraudulent means was hidden in Swiss bank accounts.
Zardari, along with his slain wife and former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, were found guilty in absentia by a Geneva court in 2003 for laundering millions of dollars. They were given six-month sentences and fined, but both punishments were suspended when they appealed. The cases were dropped altogether when in 2008, following the National Reconciliation Ordinance, Pakistan withdrew as the main plaintiff.
The National Accountability Bureau of Pakistan has been ordered by the Supreme Court to revive all cases in which Asif Ali Zardari is implicated. Of the 152 cases in which Zardari’s name appears, there are 17 cases in which he is directly identified as a culprit. It is interesting to note that from 1997 until 2004, President Zardari was also jailed on the basis of these corruption charges.
Attorney General of Pakistan Anwer Mansoor Khan has resigned from his post as the government was restricting his ability to carry on duties of his post. "Lack of cooperation" from the Law Minister provoked this act. He had taken office in December 2009, replacing Latif Khosa who was implicated in a corruption scandal. For a formal request to open the Swiss cases against Zardari, the signature of the Law Minister of Pakistan is required. The Law Minister though, doesn’t seem too keen on providing that.
A Geneva Prosecutor Daniel Zappelli said he could not reopen cases in Switzerland against Zardari as he enjoys "absolute immunity" as a head of state. "We could go further only if the competent authorities in Pakistan decide to lift the immunity of the head of state, which I do not know whether it is possible according to their constitution," Zappelli told the media on March 31st.
However, the necessary amendments may be expected sooner rather than later. The Constitutional Reforms Committee has successfully managed to pass the 18th amendment, which curtails the President’s powers.
For Zardari and his checkered past though, this has serious implications. There is a very good chance that if implemented, forcefully or otherwise, the head of state will have to face a tribunal in a foreign country. If indeed such a trial goes through, it would prove to be a monumental point and will end up redefining international and national laws, as part of the new world order – one defined by the people who believe in change.