President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday granted a pardon and remitted two prison terms given to Interior Minister Rehman Malik hours after a Pakistani court dismissed the Minister’s appeal against his conviction in two corruption cases.

Using his constitutional powers, Mr. Zardari remitted the prison terms handed down to Mr. Malik, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.

The pardon was granted under Article 45 of the Constitution on the advice of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani which “was tendered late on Monday night”, Mr. Babar said.

Article 45 of the constitution empowers the President to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by a court.

The development occurred late in the night.

Mr. Malik, a close confidant of the President, is out of the country and there were earlier unconfirmed reports that he might not return to Pakistan till the matter of the prison sentence was settled.

Earlier in the day, a two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court headed by Chief Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif dismissed Mr. Malik’s plea against his conviction by an anti-corruption court and restored the two three-year prison terms awarded to him.

The court’s ruling put immense pressure on Mr. Malik to resign before filing an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court’s decision.

Mr. Malik, who was sentenced by anti-corruption court in absentia in 2004, has maintained that he was victimised due to political reasons during his absence from Pakistan under a law specially crafted by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for victimising political opponents.

After the Supreme Court scrapped the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty that benefited Mr. Zardari and Mr. Malik, last year, the two cases against the Interior Minister, in which he was given the prison terms, were reopened by the anti-corruption court.

Mr. Malik was accused of receiving two luxury cars as graft and taking away 20 tolas of gold and Rs 700,000 from the house of a suspect during a raid by the Federal Investigation Agency in the mid-1990s.

He was then an assistant director of the FIA.

The Interior Minister then filed a petition in the Lahore High Court against the anti-corruption court’s sentence. Following this, the High Court suspended the ruling of the anti-corruption court and granted Mr. Malik bail.

During Monday’s hearing, Mr. Malik’s counsel argued that no notice was sent to his client to appear before the court.

The verdict given in his absence is “illegal” and the court should “halt the punishment orders” against Mr. Malik, the counsel said.

Legal experts were of the view that Mr. Malik could be arrested following the High Court’s order.

“The Minister is in the dock as even if he moves the Supreme Court against the decision of the Lahore High Court, he will first have to resign from office,” said advocate Muneeb Ahmed.

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