Raja Pervez Ashraf, Pakistan’s prime minister, has indicated he might be willing to re-open corruption cases against president Asif Ali Zardari, who has been accused of money laundering using Swiss bank accounts.
The prime minister told the court on Tuesday that he would tell the federal law minister to withdraw a previous request to Swiss authorities to freeze corruption investigations of the President, easing tension at least temporarily.
The civilian government has spent more than two years resisting court orders to write to authorities in Switzerland to ask them to re-open multimillion dollar graft investigations into Zardari arguing that, as head of state, he enjoys immunity from prosecution.
Ashraf’s predecessor, Yusuf Raza Gilani, was declared in contempt of court in June over the same issue and disqualified from holding the post of prime minister.
Ashraf told the Supreme Court he had instructed the law minister to write to Switzerland to withdraw a letter sent in 2007 by the then attorney general which asked them to halt probes into Zardari.
Judge Asif Saeed Khosa said the prime minister had made “serious efforts” to resolve the standoff but the court wanted to see the letter before it was sent to the Swiss to check if it fulfilled the order dating back to December 2009.
“It is necessary we should be fully satisfied that the requirement of the order is fully met,” the judge said.
“When the letter is drafted it shall be presented in the court for our perusal.”
Ashraf, who could be charged with contempt of court or face disqualification if he does not comply, has until September 25 to submit a draft of the letter.
Thousands of corruption cases were thrown out in 2007 by an amnesty law passed under former military president Pervez Musharraf, paving the way for a return to civilian rule.
The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when he and his late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, are suspected of laundering $12m allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts.
If the court accepts the letter, it could bring an end to a saga that has roiled nuclear-armed Pakistan’s political scene at a time when the country is struggling with armed Islamists and a weak economy.
The row had threatened to bring down the coalition government led by the Pakistan People’s Party, which is on course to become the first elected administration in the country’s history to complete a full five-year term.