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Pakistan Supreme Court orders anti-corruption chief to explain letter criticizing judges

The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Thursday ordered the chief of the National Accountability Bureau [official website], the government's anti-corruption agency, to appear before the tribunal in regard to a letter he wrote that criticizes the court's judges. The letter, written by retired Admiral Fasih Bokhari to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [official website], apparently accuses the high court judges of attempting to influence the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry [BBC profile] claimed that the letter interferes in court matters and summoned Bokhari [AP report] to explain the document on February 4. The anti-corruption chief's spat with the bench stems from his recent refusal to arrest [JURIST report] Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf [BBC profile] for corruption charges pursuant to a court order. There, Bokhari argued that there was insufficient evidence to arrest Ashraf for accepting bribes for approving power generation projects during his tenure as Minister for Water and Power. He also noted that additional time was needed for further investigation. In response, the Supreme Court questioned Bokhari's motive behind the argument given that the case was initiated a year ago. Two weeks ago, the court demanded that Bokhari produce the case files to determine whether the evidence is in fact insufficient, but Bokhari claimed that would be impossible due to the short notice. The arrest order for Ashraf was issued [JURIST report] earlier this month.

Pakistan has recently been fraught with conflict and tension between the executive and the judiciary, notably in light of Ashraf's brief term as Prime Minister. Ashraf's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was forced out as prime minister last June after the Supreme Court convicted him of contempt [JURIST report] for failing to pursue a corruption case against the president. In July, only a month after Ashraf became prime minister, the Supreme Court ordered him to reopen the investigation [JURIST report] against President Asif Ali Zardari within three weeks. Also that month, the National Assembly of Pakistan [official website] 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. In August, after Ashraf still did not reopen the investigation, the court ordered him to appear and explain his refusal [JURIST report] to comply with the July orders. 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].

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