Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani should have written to Swiss authorities to revive money laundering charges against Asif Ali Zardari before invoking the defence of immunity for the President, Pakistan's Supreme Court said on Wednesday as it heard a contempt case against the prime minister.
The apex court adjourned till Thursday the contempt case against Gilani after hearing arguments that the Premier had done nothing wrong by deciding not to act on its order to reopen graft cases against Zardari.
Gilani's lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, one of Pakistan's top legal minds, and the seven-judge bench led by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk sparred on various technical issues during Wednesday's proceedings.
The premier had personally appeared before the bench when it first took up the contempt case on January 19 but he was exempted from further hearings.
Ahsan insisted that the President had complete immunity from prosecution in Pakistan and abroad and the government could not ask foreign authorities to act against him.
The bench, however, maintained that the government should have acted on the apex court's order to write to Swiss authorities to revive cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari and then invoked the defence of presidential immunity.
Ahsan then said Gilani had acted on the advice of his legal aides, including the law minister and the law secretary, when he decided not to write the letter to the Swiss authorities.
He said there was no harm in writing the letter but pointed out at the same time that contempt of court would not be committed if the letter is not written.
Ahsan further said a Constitutional provision gives the prime minister immunity for his actions and maintained that no contempt case could be made against the premier.
Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk remarked that the contempt case would be closed if Ahsan succeeds in satisfying the court that the Constitution provides immunity to the president.
Justice Asif Khosa, another member of the bench, said the order for the reopening of the graft cases was given by a 17-judge bench and could not be changed.
The bench referred to Gilani's public remarks that he would not write the letter to the Swiss authorities and that was ready to go to jail, and questioned Ahsan if this did not amount to defiance of the apex court's order.
Following the court’s decision to adjourn the case till tomorrow, Ahsan told reporters that even if the bench gives an order in the contempt of court case, the Premier would have 30 days to appeal.
He insisted that Gilani had no bad intentions and had acted according to the law and after seeking advice from his legal aides.
The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari in Switzerland after it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty passed by former President Pervez Musharraf, in 2009.