The top court in Pakistan has said it will charge the country's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, with contempt of court over his refusal to seek the reopening of corruption cases involving President Asif Ali Zardari.
Pakistan's top court said on Thursday it would indict Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for contempt over his refusal to pursue the reopening of several corruption cases involving the country's president.
Gilani had maintained the line that the cases should remain closed because Asif Ali Zardari enjoyed presidential immunity. That was despite a court order that he request the cases be reopened.
Judge Nasir-ul-Mulk said Thursday there were grounds to proceed against Gilani: "After the preliminary hearing, we are satisfied that prima facie there is a case for further proceeding into the matter."
Gilani's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said an appeal would be possible, adding: "(Gilani) has been asked to be present in person on February 13 when he will be indicted."
The corruption cases go back to 2003, when Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were found guilty in absentia by a Swiss court of laundering millions of dollars from Swiss companies whilst in office. The case was dropped, however, at the request of the Pakistani government. Pressure has built on Gilani to request Swiss authorities reopen the investigation.
There had been speculation that if Gilani were to be found guilty he could be forced to step down, plunging the government into an even deeper crisis at a time of great tension between the Zardari administration and Pakistan's powerful military.
Recent months have seen a sharp deterioration in relations between army generals and Pakistan's civilian leadership over the so-called "memogate" scandal, which centers on a leaked document intended to be delivered to the United States seeking Washington's support countering a feared potential military coup.
It was alleged the document originated from within government circles, though no one has claimed responsibility. The matter is the subject of an ongoing special commission investigation.
Author: Darren Mara (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Anne Thomas