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Pakistan high court retracts PM's contempt charge

The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Wednesday retracted a contempt of court charge filed against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf after approving notification of his compliance with a June directive that ordered the revival of corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. Pakistan's Minister for Law and Justice, Farooq Naek, on November 9 submitted required documents and correspondence receipts to a five-judge bench headed by Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali. After review, the court officially retracted the charge [PTI report]. The court has sought the revival of charges against Zardari since January, but Ashraf delayed his promise to comply [JURIST report] with the more recent June directive until September, when he assured the court that he would draft a letter to Swiss authorities urging them to reinstate charges against Zardari. The president is accused of using Swiss bank accounts to fund bribes of approximately USD $60 million.

Tensions between the country's judiciary and executive branch remain strong amidst the government's near year-long refusal to follow the high court's order to probe corruption allegations against the president. In August the Supreme Court granted Ashraf three additional weeks [JURIST report] to urge Switzerland to revive corruption charges against Zardari. The court in April brought a similar contempt charge [JURIST report] against Ashraf's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for his refusal to follow the same January directive. After failing to persuade [JURIST report] the court that the president is immune from prosecution under the country's constitution, Gilani was disqualified [JURIST report] from office and Parliament. As a result, some have since argued that Pakistan's judiciary is becoming too powerful. The conflict between the government and the court originally stems from an order that struck down [JURIST report] the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text] in 2009, which granted immunity to Zardari and 8,000 other government officials from charges of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder and terrorism between January 1986 and October 1999.

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