REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- A Supreme Court panel indicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on contempt charges Monday, accusing him of repeatedly ignoring the high court's orders to revive long-standing corruption proceedings against his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari.
Gilani must now brace for a trial in coming days and weeks that could result in his conviction, his disqualification from holding office for five years and a prison term of up to six months.
Appearing in a packed courtroom at the Supreme Court, Gilani could have forestalled the indictment by telling the seven-judge panel that he would comply with its order to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that they reopen a money-laundering case against Zardari. The president and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were convicted in absentia in 2003 of laundering millions of dollars in bribes from Swiss firms when Bhutto was in power.
Swiss authorities dropped the case at the request of the Pakistani government in 2008, a year after military ruler Pervez Musharraf granted an amnesty for politicians and bureaucrats accused in graft cases. The Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that the amnesty was unconstitutional and ordered the reopening of the cases that had been set aside, including the Swiss case.
Gilani has consistently stood by Zardari's claim that he is constitutionally shielded from prosecution while in office, and has said he is willing to go to jail on a contempt conviction rather than revive the Swiss case.
Although Gilani's conviction would mark a severe setback for Zardari's government, experts say his ruling Pakistan People's Party still has the votes in parliament to select Gilani’s replacement and stay in power until national elections, which are slated for 2013 but could be held later this year.
-- Alex Rodriguez
Photo: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani arrives Monday at the Supreme Court in Islamabad. Credit: Aamir Qureshi / AFP/Getty Images