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Updated: December 17, 2009 02:50 IST

Setback to Zardari as Supreme Court scraps amnesty ordinance

Nirupama Subramanian
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Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has declared that an amnesty that had protected the President from corruption charges is illegal.
AP Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has declared that an amnesty that had protected the President from corruption charges is illegal.

The ruling is expected to pave the way for several petitions in the Supreme Court, challenging both Mr. Zardari’s eligibility to contest the 2008 presidential election and the immunity that is granted to him under the Constitution.

In a major political setback to President Asif Ali Zardari, the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance null and void, and ordered that criminal and civil cases withdrawn under this controversial law be restored and proceedings reinitiated against the accused.

Several corruption cases against President Zardari, and thousands of other criminal and civil cases against more than 8,000 others, were closed under the terms of the NRO, decreed by the former President, Pervez Musharraf, in 2007.

A full court, comprising 17 functioning judges of the Supreme Court, passed a short order of the significant judgment late on Wednesday night, following seven days of hearing.

The court also declared the cases against Mr. Zardari in the Swiss courts as pending, as letters from the Attorney-General’s office withdrawing the request for mutual legal assistance and withdrawing the government of Pakistan as a damaged party in the cases, were without authority and illegal.

Putting up a brave face, Farhatullah Babar, the presidential spokesman, told reporters after the court’s ruling that the President enjoyed immunity and no criminal cases could be instituted or continued against him.

“The President is not affected by this judgment,” he said. But Hafiz Pirzada, who argued the petition asking the court to strike down the NRO, said there was “no such thing as unconditional immunity.”

It was also claimed in court during the hearings that there was a conviction “in absentia” against Mr. Zardari in one of the cases against him, but this was contested by Mr. Babar.

The ruling is expected to pave the way for several petitions in the Supreme Court, challenging both Mr. Zardari’s eligibility to contest the 2008 presidential election and the immunity that is granted to him under the Constitution.

Several other important political personalities, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik, could also be affected by this judgment.

While ordering that all the withdrawn cases be revived, the court also said it did not trust the government prosecutors to do this, and was therefore appointing a monitoring cell in the Supreme Court as well as all the four provincial high courts for the speedy prosecution of the cases.

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