Islamabad. Pakistan’s Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of contempt in an apparently symbolic gesture on Thursday but left open the possibility that he could be removed from office later.
Culminating months of standoffs and skirmishes between the country’s highest court and the government, the court sentenced Gilani to detention but only until the court adjourned a few minutes later. It was the most lenient sentence possible.
While the verdict was seen as largely symbolic, Gilani could still face problems because he has been convicted, a result that could mean the prime minister could face removal from office in the months to come.
The case focused on a letter the Supreme Court ordered Gilani to write to Swiss authorities to revive a dormant corruption probe into the finances of President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani refused to comply, arguing that Zardari is immune from prosecution.
Rooting out corruption is an old problem in Pakistan, where bribery, kickbacks and nepotism are endemic among politicians, generals and even cricketers, but the means to prosecute them have become heavily politicized.
In politics and the military, corruption is seen as a way of either feathering one’s own nest or tarring a rival’s. Virtually every political leader — and many military ones — have faced similar accusations.
The Supreme Court aimed to show that it has the will and power to change that. Yet the clash has one strange aspect: The “Swiss letter,” as it is known, could prove to be meaningless.
In interviews by phone from Geneva, Swiss lawyers and a senior magistrate who had been involved in the cases said it would be virtually impossible to revive the cases against Zardari at this point.
One obstacle, they said, is his immunity as head of state; another is Switzerland’s 15-year statute of limitations, which expires this year. A third is the exasperation of the Swiss authorities.
“Switzerland is not some yo-yo you can play with,” said Daniel Zappelli, a former state prosecutor who drew up charges against Zardari in the 1990s.
The New York Times