Islamabad: Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has been indicted by the Supreme Court on contempt charges for refusing to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. If convicted, Mr Gilani could be imprisoned for six months and face possible removal from office after being disqualified from holding public office for five years. Here are the top 10 developments in the case;
1) Mr Gilani drove to court this morning, smiling and waving to the crowds as scores of heavily armed security personnel stood guard. Presenting his stance in a packed courtroom, the prime minister pleaded not guilty of contempt. Mr Gilani, who has been hauled up by Pakistan's highest court for refusing to act on its orders to reopen graft cases against the President, Asif Ali Zardari, has bought some more time: The court has posted the next hearing on February 22; Mr Gilani has till February 27 to file documents, which will then be recorded on February 28. After that, a date will be set for trial.
2) A two-page chargesheet against the PM, signed by all seven judges of the bench, was read out in court. Mr Gilani said he had read and understood the indictment order.
3) If Mr Gilani is convicted, he could be imprisoned for six months and face possible removal from office after being disqualified from holding public office for five years. The Prime Minister said in an interview to Al Jazeera TV on Saturday that if convicted, he would resign. However, legal experts point out that the President has the power to pardon him if he is convicted.
4) The case has dogged the democratically elected government since 2009, when the Supreme Court ordered it write to Swiss authorities requesting they reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari that dates to the late 1990s. The government has refused, claiming the president enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office.
5) On Friday, Pakistan's top court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, dealt a major blow to Mr Gilani by rejecting his appeal against framing of contempt charges over his failure to act on its repeated orders to revive cases of alleged money laundering against Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland. Mr Gilani personally appeared in the court when it took up the contempt case on January 19 and said the government could not reopen the cases against the President because he enjoys complete immunity in Pakistan and abroad.
6) Refusing to buy his arguments, the court told Gilani that he had no option but to write to Swiss authorities to revive graft cases against Zardari as no one was above the law. The court had said that $60 million that were allegedly laundered will come back to Pakistan only if the
letter is written to Swiss authorities.
7) The graft case against Zardari relates to kickbacks that he and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, allegedly received from Swiss companies when Bhutto was in power. They were found guilty in absentia in a Swiss court in 2003. Zardari appealed, but Swiss prosecutors ended up dropping the case after the Pakistani parliament passed a bill giving the president and others immunity from old corruption cases that many agreed were politically motivated.
8) The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled the bill unconstitutional in 2009, triggering the slow moving judicial process.
9) After court proceedings today, the PPP met its coalition partners in a high-level huddle to deliberate on future plans of actions; the partners endorsed Mr Gilani's leadership. There has been talk of the names of possible replacements being discussed if Mr Gilani has to step down. Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah and Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar have emerged as possible contenders for the premier's slot if Mr Gilani is disqualified, insiders said.
10) Analysts say the PPP will look to somehow stretch matters till the first week of March when elections to the senate or upper house will be held. The ruling party reportedly calculates that it can win the senate elections and then call for early general elections. Senate elections will be held on March 2.