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Defence and Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi. – Photo by PPI

ISLAMABAD: Defence and Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday that no summary had been received from the law ministry about reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari when she worked as principal secretary to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from Sept 23, 2010 to Jan 17, 2011.

Appearing before a seven-member bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk hearing a contempt of court case against Mr Gilani, she acknowledged that two summaries had been received, one on May 21 and the other on Sept 23, 2010.

According to the two summaries, then law minister Babar Awan and law secretary Pir Masud Chishti had informed the premier that there was no use of writing a letter to the Swiss authorities because the cases filed against President Zardari in Swiss courts had already been withdrawn.

The summaries also said that the court orders were not implementable. It was also pointed out that the president was supreme commander of the armed forces and part of parliament.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, counsel for Mr Gilani, defended his client by saying that the prime minister had acted on the advice in accordance with the rules of business, but said the advice might be wrong.

At one stage Mr Ahsan asked Nargis Sethi what was the normal course of business if a federal secretary sought not to comply with the directions of the prime minister and she said he would have to revert back in the form of a summary.

When the court interrupted and observed rules of business were known to all, Mr Ahsan said the question was relevant as only the prime minister was being tried and no-one else.

The bench observed that Mr Ahsan could not cross-examine his own witness, but the counsel said he could prove that it was not a cross-examination. “In a cross-examination you ask questions which are responded merely by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq raised an objection and said that Ms Sethi could testify only her own signature on the summaries and not of other persons. He said the summaries could be testified by the one who had prepared them.

Ms Sethi told the court that the prime minister’s engagements included everything listed in the rules of business and “much more than that”.

Mr Ahsan kept on posing questions and the court found many of them irrelevant. He, however, stressed that it was essential to bring certain things on record to make out a defence case.

Ms Sethi said the prime minister had a close relationship with parliament and met lawmakers on a daily basis and being the head of a coalition government he also held frequent meetings with allies. He also met dignitaries preceded by briefings.

She said the prime minister presided over 104 meetings of the cabinet, 10 meetings of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and attended 90 per cent of the parliamentary sessions and proceeded on foreign visits for around 30 times during the time she worked with him.

Ms Sethi told the court that the apparent purpose of questions on the engagement of the prime minister was to show that he did not have time to minutely go through all the files reaching him. On an average, he sees 1,000 files in a month.

Ms Sethi said that during the period she served with the prime minister, he never demonstrated any bitterness or ill-will against the judge of an accountability court who had sentenced him for 10 years with a fine of Rs100 million. He spent five years in jail and the sentence was set aside in appeal.

She said the prime minister was in Bhutan when the promotion of 54 officers, including herself, was reverted by the Supreme Court and when she conveyed the message to him he said the court orders should be implemented without any demur.

Justice Ejaz Chaudhry pointed out that she (Nargis Sethi) was No. 54 on the seniority list but was promoted despite that. He remarked that there were a number of instances where the court orders were not implemented.

Ms Sethi said when Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday was evicted from his official residence the prime minister intervened and restored his accommodation. On another occasion, the prime minister went uninvited to a farewell dinner for Justice Ramday to improve relations between the judiciary and the executive.

The hearing will continue on Thursday.