Zardari asks PM to review corruption-waiver list

Islamabad, Nov 23 ( President Asif Ali Zardari Monday asked Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to review the names of all those who had benefited from an ordinance granting immunity to prominent Pakistanis charged with corruption.

Gilani was also asked to remove the names of those who had been wrongly included in the list, Zardari said during a meeting with the prime minister at the Aiwan-e-Sadr, Online news agency reported, quoting sources.

This was the first meeting between the two after a list of beneficiaries under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was handed over to him.

Then president Pervez Musharraf had promulgated the NRO in October 2007. It had enabled the return home from exile of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December that year, and her husband, Zardari.

Alluding to this, Zardari said that if he was not the president and was not bound by constitutional constraints than he himself would have appeared before the courts, sources said.

He said that facing courts was not a new thing for him and nothing could be proved against him in spite of his spending eight years in jail, adding that all the cases against him were political and personally motivated, the sources said.

Zardari was jailed from 1997 to 2004, on corruption charges and accusations of murder. Pakistani investigators accuse Zardari and Benazir Bhutto with embezzling a staggering $1.5 billion of government money as also amassing millions of dollars from other sources.

Zardari was also accused of having a hand in the September 1996 murder of Benazir’s brother Murtaza in Karachi.

The sources said that the president and the prime minister, during their meeting agreed that the government would not defend any NRO beneficiary minister or member of parliament and they would have to get themselves cleared from the courts.

It was also decided that the government would also not ask any minister who had benefited from the NRO to quit but if this was voluntarily done, the resignation would be accepted.

This issue is important as the NRO is now in limbo. The Supreme Court had declared it unconstitutional in July and had given parliament till Nov 30 to pass it into law or let it lapse.

However, the opposition created a furore when the government tried to introduce the measure in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, leading Gilani to declare: “We will leave it to the courts.”

The government’s only option now is to seek a review of the Supreme Court order but the jury’s out on what the verdict could be.

Speaking on Saturday after receiving the NRO beneficiaries list, Gilani said the names would be made public. The list would also be presented to the media to remove any ambiguities about the beneficiaries, he added.

Among those who have benefited from the NRO are Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani, politician Fazl-ur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam — a junior partner in the ruling coalition — and former prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali.