ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, has appeared in the Supreme Court charged with contempt for defying its orders to reopen a corruption case against the President (and his political ally), Asif Ali Zardari, sharpening a political crisis that has gripped the country.
Mr Gilani earlier said that if convicted he would lose his seat in the parliament and would automatically be removed as prime minister.
''Certainly then there is no need to step down if I am convicted, I am not supposed to be even the member of the parliament,'' Mr Gilani told al-Jazeera television.
There is also the prospect of a prison term if convicted.
Mr Gilani drove to the court himself yesterday, accompanied by his lawyer, amid tight security. Helicopters buzzed over a rainy and overcast Islamabad, and hundreds of police blocked roads leading to the court building in the capital.
After the charges were read out, Mr Gilani said he understood them and pledged to contest them.
The move was the formal start to a process that will now take weeks or months to conclude. The next session will be on February 22.
The case against Mr Zardari relates to kickbacks he and his late wife, the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, allegedly received from Swiss companies when Ms Bhutto was in power in the 1990s. They were found guilty in absentia in a Swiss court in 2003.
Mr Zardari appealed, but the Swiss prosecutors dropped the case after the Pakistani parliament passed an ordinance giving the President and others immunity from old corruption cases that many agreed were politically motivated.
The bill was decried by many in Pakistan, who saw it as an attempt to subvert the law. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2009, and also ordered the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities requesting they reopen the case. The government has refused, saying the President enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office.