Pakistan PM Charged With Contempt Of Court

Alex Rossi, Asia correspondent
Pakistan's PM Found Guilty Of Contempt

Pakistan's beleaguered prime minister has been charged with contempt of court and could be jailed if found guilty.

The crisis facing the ruling party of Pakistan deepened after Yousef Raza Gilani was indicted for failing to re-open corruption charges against president Asif Ali Zardari .

The country's supreme court said the prime minister "wilfully flouted, disregarded and disobeyed" its authority.

If convicted Gilani, who has pleaded not guilty, will be forced to step down.

The case against him dates back to an amnesty - known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) - which was put in place in 2007 by then-president General Pervez Musharraf at the end of his military rule.

The NRO was designed to enable Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan from exile to contest democratic elections in 2008 without the fear of prosecution for alleged corruption.

The amnesty also gave her husband Mr Zardari protection from the same charges of money laundering using Swiss bank accounts.

He became president on a wave of public sympathy following the assassination of his wife, as she campaigned before the vote in December 2007.

But in 2009 the supreme court overturned NRO on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

According to the country's top judges it meant the old cases against Mr Zardari had to be re-opened and as prime minister, it was Gilani's duty to enforce the supreme court's decision.

However, having failed to do so, Gilani has now been indicted for contempt of court.

The prime minister claims the charges are part of a political conspiracy against him and the ruling party.

Gilani has said there was no need to re-open the corruption charges against Mr Zardari because as president, he is immune from prosecution, both home and abroad.

The case against Gilani is being widely seen as a power struggle between Pakistan's major institutions - the military, judiciary and the government - ahead of parliamentary elections, scheduled for early next year.

Conventional wisdom suggests they will now be brought forward as a result of the political crisis that is now paralysing the country.