ISLAMABAD - Countering the justification of presidential immunity, the Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that President Asif Ali Zardari was not the president at the time a letter was written to Swiss authorities for withdrawing the request made earlier for reopening graft cases against him and bringing back $60 million in alleged money laundering issue.
A seven-member special bench of the apex court headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk heard contempt of court case against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for non-implementation of court’s verdict in the NRO case. Commencing his arguments on the issue of presidential immunity, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, counsel for Gilani, submitted that President Asif Ali Zardari being the head of state enjoyed absolute immunity under international customary law from the jurisdiction of all the domestic courts all over the world in all civil and criminal matters.
Justice Muhammad Ather Saeed, however, observed that Asif Ali Zardari was not the president when the letter was written by former attorney general Malik Muhammad Qayyum requesting the withdrawal of a civil suit pertaining to money laundering case against Zardari.
The court observed that according to Vienna Convention, the benefit was only for diplomats. Aitzaz, however, replied that the convention had also extended this benefit to the heads of states. Aitzaz Ahsan repeatedly contended that as long as Zardari remained the head of the state, a letter could not be written to Swiss authorities. He further said that the there was no harm in writing a letter, but being the head of the state, Zardari got international immunity in all the civil and criminal matters. Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa said that if anyone claimed immunity, he should himself approach the court instead of conveying the message through others. “The court had only directed for writing a letter to Swiss authorities for withdrawing the letter earlier written by Malik Muhammad Qayyum,” Justice Khosa said.
He further observed that a hue and cry had been created among the public by fueling the issue that the court had asked for initiating cases in Swiss courts.
“Why should we say that cases be initiated against the president,” Justice Asif Khosa remarked, adding that their only concern was that their orders were not implemented in letter and spirit. “We are not interested in sending anyone to jail, but want to bring back the looted money of the national exchequer,” Justice Khosa observed. Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany asked Aitzaz who started the prosecution in Swiss courts. Aitzaz replied that the Swiss government had done so. “Then why an impression is being created that a Pakistani court was asking for starting the prosecution in Switzerland,” Justice Osmany said.

Aitzaz, however, contended that as long as Zardari remained the president, a letter could not be written. “By writing a letter to Swiss authorities we would acknowledged that cases are there,” Aitzaz said, adding that the president could not be subjected to a foreign country.
He contended that it would be a great disgrace for the country if a head of the state was subjected to foreign laws.
“When Asif Ali Zardari is no more president, you can sentence him, but right now he has international immunity in all criminal and civil matters,” Aitzaz said.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa recalled that during the proceedings of the federation review, they had asked Babar Awan to convince the court on the issue of Swiss cases, but he could not and now it had been stressed that the issue be delayed until the decision of the contempt case.
“All the doors and windows were quite open during the review proceedings, but despite that, the federation failed to convince the court on the Swiss cases issue,” Justice Khosa added.
He asked the lawyer whether any letter was written if any Swiss national was involved in the instant case.
Aitzaz, however, replied that the Swiss accused made a plea bargain. At this, Justice Khosa said should they not demand back the looted money.
At one point, Justice Khosa said that as several issues were discussed, he wanted to say that there was a difference between Pakistani cases and Swiss cases, adding that the issue at hand related to kickbacks, while the Swiss issue related to money laundering.
Aitzaz said the cases in the country were closed on merit.
Meanwhile, the court asked Aitzaz to conclude his arguments by today (Thursday) and adjourned the hearing.

Pakistan today