Islamabad, Feb 13 (IANS): Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was today indicted by the Supreme Court in a contempt of court case for refusing to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, making it a first for any Pakistan premier. Gilani, who pleaded innocence, could go to jail for six months and lose office.
The nattily dressed Prime Minister waved before entering the court where head of the seven-member bench of the apex court, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, read out the chargesheet in his presence.
He asked the Prime Minister to stand up and hear the charges out against him, reported Xinhua. The bench read out the two-page chargesheet in a jam-packed court room and indicted him of contempt.
"Have you read the charges framed against you?" asked the bench.
"Yes, I have read. I (have) understood," Online news agency quoted the prime minister as responding.
He added after consultation with his counsel: "I will plead innocence."
The court exempted Gilani from appearing in person in next hearing to be held Feb 22. Evidence by Gilani will be recorded Feb 27 and 28.
Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq was asked by the court to act as the prosecutor.
Gilani's counsel Aitzaz Ahsan sought time till Feb 24 for submission of reply as he was going out of the country, reported Geo News.
Ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) secretary for information Qamar Zaman Kaira said it was a sad day.
"For the first time the prime minister has been charged. It's a sad day for Pakistan," Geo News quoted Kaira as saying after the court hearing got over.
Allies like Awami National Party (ANP) have rallied around Gilani in this fresh crisis, which could out a question mark on the future of the government if there is a conviction.
There was tight security as the prime minister reached the court premises. The court had issued him a contempt notice Jan 16.
Gilani had appeared before the Supreme Court Jan 19 in the contempt case for not acting against Zardari for corruption and defended his move, saying that the constitution provided immunity to the president.
Gilani had then said he had spent six years in prison and had never been reluctant to appear before the court. This indicated that he had always respected the court.
The apex court had warned the government of action if its ruling on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), granting immunity to politicians and bureaucrats in corruption cases, was not implemented by Jan 10, 2012.
The court had also sought reopening of cases closed under the NRO, struck down as void in 2009. It had ordered the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen cases against the president.
Zardari, accused of graft, had been granted amnesty under the NRO which was issued in 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had in 1998 accused Zardari and the late Benazir Bhutto of awarding a pre-shipment inspection contract to the Societe Generale Surveillance (SGS). This was done in return for six percent commission on the total amount the company received from the Pakistan government, it claimed.
Earlier in August 2008, Swiss judicial authorities, acting on the request of the Pakistani government, had closed a money laundering case against Zardari and released $60 million frozen in Swiss accounts.