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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Pakistan: Supreme Court to inquire into Sharif bribe claims

Islamabad, 4 Sept.(AKI) - By Syed Saleem Shahzad - Pakistan's Supreme Court has signalled it will begin inquiring into allegations about a historic deal spearheaded by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bid to protect his office in 1993. The appellate bench of the court will set a date soon for the hearing which will hear claims that Sharif paid seven MPs from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the border of Afghanistan.

The hearing now depends on the Chief Justice of Pakistan and court staff to determine when the case will be heard.

“This is the story of a gambler (Nawaz Sharif) who when he lost the game refused to pay and fled,” said Shahid Orakzai, the petitioner, who filed this case in 1997 against the former premier.

According to the petition, the case focuses on the 'horse trading' of seven MPs who were allegedly bribed to help Sharif form a majority for Pakistan Muslim League in October 1993 for the election of national assembly speaker which finally set the stage for the election of the leader of the house.

Sharif allegedly used Shahid Orakzai as a liaison to approach the MPs from the tribal areas and agreed to pay each of them 2.5 million Pakistani rupees (30,000 dollars) for their support.

However, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz failed to secure a majority and its rival Pakistan Peoples Party formed a majority in the parliament.

Sharif has been accused of seeking to delay the payment and later refusing to pay a portion of the funds to the MPs who cast their vote in his favour.

Former ISI official retired squadron leader Khalid Khawaja has also filed an affidavit in the court confirming that the transactions took place with the MPs through Shahid Orakzai.

The case is widely seen as a litmus test for the credibility of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Shahid Orakzai told Adnkronos International in Islamabad.

Many will be watching to see whether he fixes an early date for the case, or like previous court orders refuses to hear the case or delay it to protect Sharif.

Sharif first became prime minister in 1990 but his government was sacked in April 1993, when president Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the National Assembly on charges of corruption, nepotism, and extrajudicial killings.

Six weeks later, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that the presidential order was unconstitutional, reconstituting the National Assembly and returning Sharif to power on May 26.

The army stepped in asking Sharif to resign and he and the president were forced from office in July 1993.

In July 2009 Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted Sharif of hijacking charges, removing the final ban on him running for public office.

Sharif was found guilty of hijacking then army chief general Pervez Musharraf's plane in 1999, when he ordered it to be diverted.

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