The Swiss government cannot reopen the corruption charges against Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] because the statutory limitations period has lapsed, Pakistan Law Minister Zahid Hamid announced Wednesday. Swiss authorities sent their position in February of this year, but the sealed letter was officially opened [Dawn report] by Hamid Tuesday. The case against Zardari was closed in 2008. However, following pressure from the Supreme Court, former law minister Farooq Naek wrote to Swiss authorities to reopen the case, while also requesting that the case not affect the immunity granted to the president by the constitution. In their letter dated February 9, Swiss authorities declined, stating that Pakistan is abusing its power by demanding resumption of the criminal cases, while maintaining that such resumption could not take place. Zardari is accused of laundering USD 60,000,000 through Swiss banks. The Law Ministry is consulting with the Swiss attorney general to determine its future course of action.
Political leaders' reluctance to open a corruption case against the president has caused conflict between the country's judiciary and executive branches. Hamid has since asked to resign [IHT report] from the ministry Tuesday after being named as a defendant in a suit against former president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive]. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was forced out of office last June after the Supreme Court convicted him of contempt [JURIST reports] for failing to pursue a corruption case against the president. In July, only a month after Raja Pervez Ashraf became prime minister, the Supreme Court ordered him to reopen the investigation [JURIST report] against Zardari within three weeks. Also that month, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved a bill [JURIST report] to shield senior officials from contempt of court proceedings, which was widely seen as an attempt to exempt Ashraf from possible claims of contempt for failing to follow the order. When Ashraf did not do as the court requested, the Supreme Court granted him another two weeks [JURIST report] to comply with its order. After his appearance, the Supreme Court then granted Ashraf an additional three weeks [JURIST report] to reopen the corruption case. Finally, in mid-September, Ashraf agreed to allow the corruption case to be reopened [JURIST report].