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248 people face anti-graft hammer in Pak

By Rezaul H Laskar
December 17, 2009 22:14 IST
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Pakistan's anti-corruption agency on Thursday revived cases against thousands of people, including politicians, that were scrapped under a law struck down by the Supreme Court, as authorities barred 248 people, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik from travelling abroad.

Offices of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) across Pakistan reopened cases closed under National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a controversial law issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf that was declared void by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

NAB directed its officials to resume the prosecution of revived cases.

NAB asked the interior ministry to place the names of all beneficiaries of NRO on the "Exit Control List", a move that will bar them from travelling out of Pakistan.

A NAB spokesman said 248 people had been included in the ECL so far but did not name them.

However, TV news channels reported the interior ministry had included Rehman Malik, whose conviction was quashed under NRO, in the ECL. They also reported that Zardari's name was not on the ECL.

Arrest warrants were issued for NRO beneficiaries who were earlier declared "proclaimed offenders". Bank accounts and properties of people whose convictions were quashed under the NRO had been sealed, officials said.

It was not immediately clear how NAB's move will affect President Asif Ali Zardari, who is among the over 8,000 people who benefited from NRO.

The NAB spokesman too declined to comment on whether cases against Zardari had been reopened. Zardari told a group of journalists he is ready to face all challenges created by the court's verdict.

The beleaguered President's aides have maintained that the constitution grants him immunity from prosecution. Opposition political parties have mounted pressure on Zardari to step down in the wake of the ruling.

"We suggest that Zardari should take the moral high ground and resign instead of depending on the crutches of the constitution," said Siddique-ul-Farooq, a spokesman for the main opposition PML-N.

The government led by Zardari's Pakistan People's Party said it was studying the apex court's decision. A brief statement issued by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's office said the government "respects the judgement of the Supreme Court and is awaiting the detailed judgment".

"However, the government has already started consulting legal experts for its implementation," the statement said. 

The NRO was issued by former military ruler Musharraf in October 2007 at a time when he had been considerably weakened and was seeking his prolong his grip on power.

The controversial law, which scrapped all graft cases registered against politicians and bureaucrats between 1986 and 1999, was part of a power-sharing deal brokered by Western powers to allow slain former premier Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan from self-exile.

The Supreme Court began hearing challenges to the NRO after the government was unable to get it ratified by parliament within a deadline set by the court.

Zardari may also have to face corruption charges outside Pakistan as the Supreme Court has ordered the government to revive graft cases against Zardari in Switzerland and other countries.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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