Why did Supreme Court treat Gillani and Nawaz Sharif differently?

File photo of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani (right) and current prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

It’s a tale of two legal cases, two Prime Ministers and two different crimes. One was a case of contempt of court while the other was of making illegal assets, eight offshore companies in offshore tax havens, dealings in millions of dollars in property transactions, dubious business deals, money laundering, lying in the parliament, contradictory statements and so on.

Both crimes were committed by the sitting Prime Ministers of Pakistan. The superior court found the first one unforgivable and ordered disqualification of the then Prime Minster Yusuf Raza Gilani.

On the other hand, the second crime has allegedly been committed by the present Prime Minister and his family as revealed in the Panama leaks. The honorable court wrote in its verdict that although the prime minister could not present convincing evidence to prove him innocent, they need further investigations into the matter.

They ordered the formation of a JIT to further probe into the matter. Though the nature of these two cases was different but keeping in view the outcomes of these cases, it can be assumed that contempt of court is far worse than any other crime.

The Supreme Court asked the government in 2012 to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to restart the prosecution of Asif Zardari. The said case dated back to the 1990s in which it that he allegedly laundered $60m while his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister of Pakistan.

Then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani refused, arguing that the president enjoyed immunity as head of state according to article 248 of the Constitution which states, “No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or a Governor in any Court during his term of office. No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President or a Governor shall issue from any Court during his term of office.”

While the refusal of the Prime Minister to write a letter to the Swiss authorities cannot be defended but he had constitutional reasons for not obeying the court orders. “Agreeing to court orders would have meant letting President of Pakistan be answerable to a foreign magistrate”, said barrister Aitizaz Ahsan.

Despite this fact, he was tried for contempt of court for not sending the letter to Swiss authorities. Capping months of legal trench warfare between the government and the judiciary, Gilani was stripped of his office by a short statement by the then chief justice.

The constitution is very clear about how the disqualification process is supposed to work and the court had quite extraordinarily brushed that aside and made up new rules of the game. Many constitutional experts did not agree on whether this was legal. However, the government accepted the court’s decision.

The case against the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family is different but comparable to Yousaf Raza Gillani’s case. The Panama leaks revealed evidence regarding the offshore companies and properties owned by the PM and his family.

The Prime Minister and his family accepted that they owned the flats in Mayfair London. The burden of proof lied on them.

On top of that, the PM gave contradictory statements in his two addresses to the nation, in the parliament and before the Supreme Court. Despite these facts the court did not find sufficient evidence to convict him. It leads common people of Pakistan to the conclusion that either the former PM Gilani was wrongfully disqualified or the court showed leniency in case of PM Nawaz Sharif.

Now that the JIT has been formed, one can but only hope that its findings will not end up like all the other JITs in the recent past.

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