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Pakistan anti-corruption court reopens five cases against former president

Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau (NAB) [official website] court on Monday reopened five cases against former president Asif Ali Zardari [BBC backgrounder]. While president, Zardari had been immune from prosecution, but when Zardari stepped down on September 5 and Mamnoon Hussain [official website] became Pakistan's president, Zardari lost that immunity. The allegations before the anti-corruption court relate to kickbacks and favoritism [IANS report], money laundering and misuse of power. The prosecution is also investigating allegedly corrupt customs contracts given to two companies from Switzerland, although the Swiss government has declined to reopen [JURIST report] similar corruption charges against Zardari in Switzerland. Despite notices issued to Zardari and the prosecutor general, Zardari did not appear in court on Monday when the cases were reopened. Zardari has been ordered to appear before the court on October 29.

Pakistan has been fraught with conflict and tension between the executive and the judiciary. Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf's [BBC profile] predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was forced out as prime minister in June 2012 after the Supreme Court convicted him of contempt [JURIST report] for failing to pursue a corruption case against the president. In July of last year, only a month after Ashraf became prime minister, the Supreme Court ordered him to reopen the investigation [JURIST report] against 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 two weeks [JURIST report] to comply. In August, after Ashraf still did not reopen the investigation against Zardari, the court ordered him to appear and explain his refusal [JURIST report] to comply. After his appearance, the Supreme Court then granted Ashraf an additional three weeks [JURIST report] to reopen the corruption case. In mid-September, Ashraf finally complied with reopening Zardari's investigation [JURIST report], although argued Zardari was immune from prosecution while president.

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