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Pakistan high court summons premier on contempt charges

For the second time in two months, a Pakistani prime minister faces allegations of contempt in a corruption case involving the country's president. If convicted, Raja Pervez Ashraf could be stripped of his post.

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to appear before the body later this month, over charges that he has obstructed a corruption investigation against President Asif Ali Zadari.

Ashraf is the second Pakistani prime minister to face contempt charges in the past two months. Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified from his post by the Supreme Court in June for refusing to reopen a corruption case against President Zadari.

"We hereby issue a notice to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf… to show cause why he may not be proceeded against for committing contempt," the court said. "He shall appear in person on the next date of hearing."

Ashraf's hearing has been scheduled for August 27. If convicted of contempt, he could be stripped of his post as prime minister. Pakistan's current elected government is on track to be the first in the country's history to serve out a full five-year term. But the power struggle with the judiciary could force early elections.

The Pakistani government had called for the court case against Ashraf to be postponed until September. Government supporters have accused the court of waging a personal vendetta against President Zadari.

Corruption scandal

The current case stems from 1990s corruption allegations against Zadari and his deceased wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The two were accused of using Swiss bank accounts to launder $12 million (9.7 billion euros) in bribes paid by companies seeking favorable customs inspections contracts.   

The head of Pakistan's former military government, General Pervez Musharraf, passed an amnesty law in 2007 that threw out thousands of corruption cases as part of the transition back to civilian rule. But Pakistan's Supreme Court subsequently overturned that law, paving the way for the case against Zadari to be reopened.

The court had given Ashraf until August 8 to ask Switzerland to reopen the investigation against Zadari, which the prime minister failed to do.

slk/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)