Prominent Pakistanis lose corruption waiver shield

Islamabad, Nov 28 ( Pakistan is set for a tremendous amount of internal churning with some 8,000 prominent individuals losing the waiver they have received from corruption charges.

The Supreme Court will now take up a batch of petitions to decide the fate of the benefits drawn by prominent politicians, army officers and bureaucrats from the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that lapsed Saturday.

More importantly, the apex court will rule on the scope and parameters of the constitutional immunity Asif Ali Zardari, an NRO beneficiary, has from prosecution as the president.

That judgement, while invalidating the emergency then-president Pervez Musharraf had declared Nov 3, 2007, had given the government 120 days to pass the NRO 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, earlier this month, leading Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to declare: “We will leave it to the courts.”

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.

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.

On Monday, Zardari had asked Gilani to review the list of NRO beneficiaries and remove the names of those who had been wrongly included in the list.

During a meeting at the Aiwan-e-Sadr, Zardari also alluded to his own position, saying that if he was not the president and was not bound by constitutional constraints then he himself would have appeared before the courts, Online news agency reported, quoting sources.

Zardari 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 added.

Legal experts, however, say the matter is not in his hands as the Supreme Court could well rule that Zardari was ineligible to be the president as the NRO had lapsed.

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.