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Pakistan Supreme Court gives PM more time in graft case

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday adjourned a case that could see Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf being formally charged with contempt of court and disqualified.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf waves after arriving at the Supreme Court in Islamabad August 27, 2012. Ashraf is to appear before the Supreme Court over his failure to comply with orders to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Ashraf appeared in court over his failure to comply with orders to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The case has fuelled tension in a long-running standoff between the government and increasingly assertive judiciary. The court adjourned proceedings until September 18.

It said Ashraf must ensure a letter is written to Swiss authorities asking them to reopen corruption cases against Zardari. Justice Asif Khosa said Ashraf did not have to write the letter himself. He could nominate someone else to write it.

“I will make a sincere effort to solve this issue in a way that the dignity and honor of the Supreme Court will be maintained,” Ashraf said.

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.

If Ashraf is disqualified, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party can simply nominate a new prime minister since it has a comfortable majority in parliament.

But any prolonged political instability would further distract an unpopular government which has failed to tackle a wide range of issues, from a Taliban insurgency to crippling power cuts.

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.

Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that agreement illegal, and ordered the reopening of money laundering cases against Zardari that involved Swiss bank accounts.

The government has refused to obey the court’s order to contact Swiss authorities to reopen the cases, arguing Zardari had immunity as the head of state.

Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Michael Georgy