SC allows PM to produce Sethi as his witness

Supreme CourtISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court allowed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday to produce on March 7 his former principal secretary Nargis Sethi as his defence witness in the ongoing contempt proceedings against him for not complying with the court’s December 16, 2009 order in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case.

 A seven-member special bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Muhammad Ather Saeed, also allowed Aitzaz Ahsan, counsel for the prime minister, to submit summaries of May 21 and September 21, 2010 along with the orders passed by his client in response to the court’s orders about reopening of Swiss cases against the president.

Aitzaz Ahsan pleaded before the court that his client never intended to act in contempt of court but followed the rules of business. The court disposed of an application by Aitzaz, in which he stated that his client acted upon the advice of concerned officials that graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari could not be reopened in Switzerland, as he enjoyed complete immunity under Article 248 of the constitution.

He requested the court to summon former law minister Babar Awan, law secretary Masood Chishti and former principal secretary to the prime minister and incumbent Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi, who signed the summaries, as court’s witnesses in the matter. He said these three would endorse the draft of the summaries sent to his client. But the court rejected his request, telling him that he might produce them as defence witnesses.

Aitzaz then told the court that his client, being the prime minister, did not want to ask Awan and Chishti to appear for his defence. Besides, he said according to his information both the men had declined to appear as defence witnesses. However, he said he would produce Nargis Sethi as defence witness on the next hearing and would also cross-examine her. The court accepted the request.

He said the summaries signed and sent by Awan and Chishti led to contempt of court case against his client. He said his client was bound to act on the advice of law ministry’s officials. Both the summaries were sent by the then federal law minister and the law secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office advising him “not to write the letter to prosecutors in Switzerland (requesting that money laundering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari be reopened)”.

Aitzaz pleaded that under Article 187 of the constitution, the Supreme Court was authorised to provide complete justice, wherein under Order 33 of the Supreme Court Rules it was also empowered to summon evidence in any case.Justice Nasirul Mulk asked Aitzaz that he was directed by the court to file documentary evidence in his defence, by he still had not. “Do you want to rely on the two summaries mentioned in your application?” Justice Mulk asked Aitzaz.

However, Aitzaz submitted that he would submit the documentary evidence and also deliver arguments on the contempt charge, keeping aside the defence of any immunity. He said he just wanted to prove that his client did not defy the court orders deliberately.Justice Ejaz Afzal asked Aitzaz to cross-examine the documentary evidence submitted by the prosecution. But Aitzaz stated that the prosecution had not presented any witnesses, who could be cross-examined, adding that he was counsel for the prime minister in the contempt of court case, having no concern with the implementation of the NRO verdict case.

At one point, Aitzaz said the prosecution had deprived him from cross-examining by not making Awan, Chishti or any other as its witnesses.Justice Osmany observed that the present special bench was formed for the NRO implementation case, but Aitzaz again submitted that he was representing his client before the bench in the contempt case.Aitzaz told the court that he would not have to call any other witnesses other than Sethi if the court acknowledged that the draft of the summaries was true.To a court query, he said it would be the person of Yousaf Raza Gilani and not the office of the prime minister to go behind the bars if the court awarded imprisonment in the case.

Justice Nasirul Mulk observed that the matter related to the execution of the prime minister’s official duties due to his failure. Aitzaz then stated that the prime minister did not know the direct court order, adding that his client was not ordered in his personal capacity, as the judicial directives were meant for the federal government including the law secretary. Justice Nasirul Mulk questioned as to why the court order was not implemented even when the NRO review petition was also dismissed? The court later adjourned proceedings for March 7. – PT