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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court verdict on NRO will bring the 11-year-old SGS corruption reference against President Asif Zardari and late Benazir Bhutto to public glare once again, legal circles say.
In the reference, Ms Bhutto, Asif Zardari and their agent Jens Schlegelmilch were alleged to have received $60 million in kickbacks from SGS in exchange for the award of a pre-shipment inspection contract to the Swiss company in 1994.

The reference was filed in 1998 by the second government of Nawaz Sharif in the Lahore High Court and before a Swiss magistrate. The couple were convicted by the LHC in the case, but the decision was set aside by the Supreme Court in 2001 because of the partisanship of the sentencing judge.

In 2003, Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari were convicted of simple money laundering by a Geneva investigating judge who handed down a six-month suspended sentence. Ms Bhutto, who personally appeared in the Geneva court, filed an appeal against the magistrate’s decision, only to face more serious money laundering charges.

The case was pending in the Swiss court when then president Pervez Musharraf promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance and the government dropped the case in April 2008.

At that time, Swiss lawyers reportedly said the lack of a criminal prosecution against Mr Zardari in Pakistan and the government’s withdrawal as a civil party in the case had greatly weakened the chances of convicting Mr Zardari under the Swiss law.

Political and legal experts say it will be interesting to see if the Swiss authorities will be ready to reopen the case against Mr Zardari in the light of Wednesday’s Supreme Court judgment.

A spokesman for the prime minister said on Thursday that the government had “started consulting legal experts for the implementation” of the verdict, while President Asif Ali Zardari convened a meeting of PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) on Saturday to discuss the judgment’s fallout.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told journalists that President Zardari and MQM chief Altaf Hussain had discussed the political situation over phone.

The MQM chief and other senior members of his party were among the beneficiaries of the NRO.

The government gave a cautious response to the judgment, saying that it “respects” the verdict and was awaiting the detailed judgment.

The Minister of State for Law, Afzal Sindhu, told DawnNews that there was no imminent threat to the Presidency because under Article 41 of the Constitution a presidential election could not be challenged in any court.

Political experts believe that besides President Zardari, the situation has also brought Prime Minister Gilani under pressure.

The SC verdict had heightened pressure on Mr Gilani to remove the NRO-tainted ministers from his cabinet, they said.

The dilemma for the prime minister is that if he asks these ministers to quit, the pressure will shift to President Zardari, who is also his party’s co- chairman.

The prime minister has been striving for the past six months to cut the size of the cabinet and is likely to raise the issue in the CEC meeting.

Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, will attend a CEC meeting for the first time since the restoration of the deposed judges in March.

His membership was suspended by President Zardari because of his role in the judges’ movement in violation of the party policy. It was restored this month after a demand by some members in the last CEC meeting.

It will be interesting to see what advice Mr Ahsan gives to the party leadership. Sources told Dawn that the ‘dissidents’, though in minority, were set to criticise the policies of the government and the party.

In the CEC meeting held last month, some members who were close to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto but had been sidelined by the present leadership criticised party policies.

They called for action against those who had brought it to a position where no “genuine” leader was ready to defend the government and the PPP leadership.

Senator Dr Safdar Abbasi, MNA Nawab Yusuf Talpur and a member from Gujrat, Ghazanfar Gul, indirectly criticised President Zardari’s aides and called for bringing veteran party leaders and activists to the forefront.

They called for taking those to task who had “embarrassed” the party and the government on issues ranging from judges’ restoration to the NRO.

WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s ambassador in USA Hussain Haqqani said there is no coup being hatched in Pakistan against President Asif Ali Zardari and his government.
Talking to journalist Wolf Blitzer on a US-based news channel by phone, he said he hoped there is no coup being cooked up in Pakistan, adding the past coups have turned out to be greatly detrimental to the country.

Everybody including Pakistan’s high military leadership have achieved consensus that the Army should focus on guarding the national borders and elected government should run the national affairs in accordance with the Constitution and the courts should deliver verdicts on criminal and constitutional matters in the light of law, he maintained.

Haqqani further said he hopes that everyone in Pakistan would function his own constitutional role and the country would not be set on the path to coup, as past coups have always proved disastrous for the country.

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