Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday directed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to ask Swiss authorities to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and to submit a report on the issue on March 21.
The apex court said in an order that Gilani should write a letter to the Swiss authorities without waiting to seek the advice of his legal experts.
It asked him to file a report giving details of the action taken by him at the next hearing.
A seven-judge bench led by justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said contempt proceedings initiated against Gilani for failing to act on the court’s earlier orders to revive the cases against Zardari would continue simultaneously.
The bench asked Gilani to record his detailed response to the contempt proceedings by March 21, failing which final arguments in the case would get underway.
The bench issued this direction after Attorney General Anwar-ul-Haq, the prosecutor for the case, cross-examined cabinet secretary Nargis Sethi, who is appearing as a witness.
Emerging from the hearing, Gilani's lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters that the bench had asked the premier to submit a detailed statement by March 19 or to appear in person and record his statement on March 21.
"If he (Gilani) does not submit a statement, arguments will commence on March 21. If he makes a statement, the final arguments will begin from March 21," Ahsan said.
The Supreme Court recently indicted Gilani for contempt of court after he refused to act on orders to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against President Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland.
The apex court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases against Zardari since December 2009, when it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys complete immunity from prosecution within Pakistan and abroad.
Ahsan contended that the prosecution had not proved its case as it had only produced the Supreme Court’s past orders.
"As long as a person is President, he cannot be pushed before a judge in a foreign country," he remarked.
The premier was advised by officials that the cases against Zardari could not be reopened, he said.
Subsequently, Gilani wrote to officials that the Supreme Court should be taken into confidence on the government’s view but the court did not take up the for over a year, he said.
"It was only in January 2012 that the Supreme Court took up the issue. People can sharpen their knives but we have genuinely proved our case. We have a good case," he said.
If convicted, Gilani could be jailed for six months and face the possibility of being disqualified.