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Swiss graft case balm on Zardari

Islamabad, Feb. 10: The Swiss government has refused to reopen graft cases against Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the ground that he enjoyed immunity.

The Swiss government informed the Pakistani law ministry of the decision through a letter received by Islamabad on Saturday.

Law minister Farooq H. Naek confirmed that the Swiss authorities had responded to letters written by the Pakistan government last year on the instructions of the Supreme Court, which had been asking the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government to reopen the graft cases.

The cases had been closed in 2008 after the then attorney-general, Malik Abdul Qayyum, approached his Swiss counterpart for closure of inquiries under a power-sharing deal that former President Pervez Musharraf had reached with the PPP.

The apex court had in December 2009 scrapped the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance, promulgated by Musharraf in 2007 to grant amnesty to politicians, especially from the PPP.

Known as “Mr Ten Per Cent” for his involvement in corruption cases, Zardari was among over 8,000 politicians, government officials and bureaucrats who got amnesty from graft charges under the ordinance.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Zardari allegedly used Swiss bank accounts to launder around $12 million in bribes paid by different companies seeking contracts for customs inspection in Pakistan in the 1990s.

The tussle between the apex court and the government had cost former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani his job. Gilani was first charged with contempt over his refusal to write to the Swiss authorities and later disqualified in July 2012.

Pakistan had sent the letter to Swiss authorities in November 2012. Pakistan’s mission in Geneva had been given advice from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor-general K.K. Agha, who prepared the case while working as an additional attorney of Pakistan.

Officials in law ministry told The Telegraph that the Swiss government refused to reopen the cases on the ground that the President enjoyed immunity.

The newspaper The Express Tribune quoted a senior legal expert, Ahmer Bilal Soofi, as saying that “in Switzerland, once an investigation against the accused is closed on the request of the aggrieved party, it becomes very difficult under local laws to entertain a request to reopen the case”.

 
 
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