Bowing to pressure from the Supreme Court, the Pakistan government on Wednesday said it has asked Switzerland to reopen graft cases against Asif Ali Zardari over alleged stashing of $60 million in Swiss banks.
However, Swiss authorities in Geneva said it would be "impossible" for them to reopen the cases against Zardari because he enjoys absolute immunity as Head of State.
The chief of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country's top anti-graft agency, told a seven-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that authorities had written letters to Swiss Attorney General and other officials to reopen the corruption cases against Zardari that were closed under a controversial graft amnesty issued by former President Pervez Musharraf.
The international mutual legal assistance that was granted to Switzerland in 1997 and subsequently withdrawn would be restored to facilitate the reopening of cases, NAB Chairman Naveed Ahsan's lawyer Abid Zubairi informed the apex court.
Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were convicted by a Swiss court in a $15 million money-laundering case in 2003.
They had denied the charges. Pakistan withdrew the case from the court soon after Zardari's PPP came to power in 2008.
Daniel Zappelli, the public prosecutor of the Swiss canton of Geneva, said it was "impossible" to reopen the graft cases unless Pakistan lifts immunity for Zardari. NAB has taken steps to reopen 152 cases in which Zardari is named as an accused and the foreign ministry has been asked to cooperate in reopening the cases in Switzerland, Zubairi said.
The apex court had yesterday threatened to imprison the NAB Chairman after the government failed to meet a 24-hour deadline to reopen hundreds of graft cases, including those against Zardari and his close aides.
The Chief Justice had also brushed aside Ahsan's contention that Zardari enjoyed immunity from prosecution by virtue of being President and indicated that this issue was yet to be decided by the apex court.
The NAB also told the apex court today that it was awaiting permission from the Law Ministry to take action against former Attorney General Malik Qayyum, on whose request cases in Swiss court against Zardari were closed.
The Chief Justice asked Attorney General Anwar Mansoor if the government had fully implemented the apex court's verdict striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), the graft amnesty issued by Musharraf, and Mansoor replied in the positive.
According to a report submitted by NAB to the apex court, authorities had taken steps to reopen 16 cases in the Supreme Court and 158 in High Courts that were closed under the NRO. Summons had also been issued to the accused in these cases, the report said.