ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday he would rather go to jail than obey a court order and ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against the president.
Gilani’s remarks revive speculation that he would rather risk losing his job than capitulate in a two-year showdown with the judiciary that culminated last month with him being charged with contempt by the Supreme Court.
He has always insisted that President Asif Ali Zardari is immune from prosecution as president and says the cases against him are politically motivated.
“If I write a letter it will be a violation of the constitution, which is treason and which carries the death sentence,” Gilani told PhD students in central Punjab province, with a few in the audience shouting “do not write, do not write”.
“If I don’t write, I will be convicted for contempt, the punishment for which is six months’ imprisonment,” Gilani said.
“It’s better to face six months’ imprisonment than face the death sentence.”
Pakistan’s top court last week ordered Gilani to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by March 21.
It was the first time the court asked Gilani personally to write to the Swiss. It previously addressed repeated demands to the government since revoking in 2009 an amnesty freezing legal proceedings against key politicians.
Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.
Playing to the gallery, Gilani asked the students in Bahawalpur district whether he should write the letter, to which the audience shouted: “No, no.”
“Ok, we will send your message to the court and tell them that they should charge parliament with contempt of court because parliament has given immunity to the president. All heads of state all over the world have this immunity.”
Zardari is so tainted by corruption allegations that he is nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent”. He has already spent 11 years in jail in Pakistan on charges ranging from corruption to murder although he has never been convicted.