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SC issues contempt notice to Raja

March 29, 2013

ISLAMABAD, March 28: Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf may have saved himself from the contempt charges earlier by writing a much-demanded letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against the president but could not escape a second time.

The Supreme Court issued on Thursday a contempt notice to Raja Ashraf under article 204 of the constitution, read with sections 3 and 17 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003, for writing a letter to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on the issue of rental power projects (RPP) scam.

Under Section 17(2) of the ordinance, the former prime minister will have to appear in person before the court after two weeks to explain why he should not be proceeded against for attempting to interfere and influence the Supreme Court seized with the RPP implementation case which involved elements of corruption and corrupt practices.

A three-judge bench had taken up the letter in which Raja Ashraf had requested the chief justice to transfer investigation into the Rs22 billion RPP scam from the National Accountability Bureau to a commission by appointing Federal Tax Ombudsman Dr Shoaib Suddle as its head.

Raja Ashraf is represented by senior counsel Waseem Sajjad.

Legal observers are of the opinion that there is no imminent threat to Raja Ashraf of being disqualified because the contempt notice will not affect his filing of nomination paper and contesting the election.

Raja Ashraf’s predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified by the Supreme Court on June 19 last year from holding a seat in parliament after he was convicted by a seven-judge bench on April 26 last year of committing contempt of court for not writing the letter to the Swiss authorities.

“It will depend entirely on the reaction shown by his voters but for the time being mere issuance of the notice will not threaten his election from any constituency,” Advocate Waqar Rana said while talking to Dawn.

But if sentenced he may lose his seat because then he would fall in the category of article 63(1g) of the constitution which deals with the eligibility of candidates to stand for elections and become member of parliament for defaming or ridiculing the judiciary or compromising the integrity or independence of the judiciary.

Former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Yasin Azad said the notice might disappoint his voters, but it certainly would not create any legal obstacle in the way of Mr Ashraf’s election.

Retired Justice Tariq Parvez said Mr Gilani had been convicted of ridiculing the judiciary, but the charge against Mr Ashraf was interference which might not attract disqualification even if he was convicted.

“Had such a letter not been sent by the chief executive of the country knowing fully the entire background of the case would have been worth consideration,” said an order dictated by the chief justice after the proceedings.

Before writing the letter to the chief justice, Mr Ashraf had on Jan 21 withdrawn his review petition against the court’s overarching judgment in the RPP case on the apprehension that adverse observations or an explicit order could compromise his situation as the prime minister.

The court also took exception to the request for appointing the Dr Suddle commission knowing well that cases of a number of other accused in the RPP scam were pending before court.

“Prima facie this is tantamount to seek a favour from the court to leave behind so many procedures,” the order said, adding that writing such a letter by Raja Ashraf particularly when he was holding such an important office amounted to influencing the court.

It could be possible for him as he was doing in the past to appear before the court instead of using his high office and position which if not noticed would likely to caste distinction for dispensation of justice among two classes of people, one holding high offices and the other ordinary litigants, the court said.