ISLAMABAD: The references against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif may be dominating headlines, but an accountability court in Rawalpindi has expedited proceedings in the last pending corruption reference against former president Asif Ali Zardari.

The court will continue day-to-day proceedings against the PPP co-chairperson today (Thursday) over his allegedly illegal assets, both in Pakistan and abroad.

In the reference, Mr Zardari and his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, had been accused of acquiring assets through illegal means.

Former president is accused of illegally accumulating assets in Pakistan and abroad

The reference was filed before an accountability court in 2001 and was closed in 2007 under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), issued by the government of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf.

The Supreme Court, in its verdict in the NRO case on December 2009, had ordered the revival of cases closed under the ordinance. By then, however, Mr Zardari had been sworn in as president and therefore enjoyed acquired immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution.

NAB re-opened the assets reference in April 2015, but the case has been proceeding at a snail’s pace. Early on, both the prosecution and defence counsels did not seem to want to pursue the case vigorously.

There has been no progress this year either, as Mr Zardari’s counsel was unavailable due to other commitments or ailments.

However, in the wake of the recent judgment in the Panama Papers case, Mr Zardari’s counsel Farooq H. Naek became available and the accountability court, with the consent of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), initiated daily hearings in the matter.

Courts generally opt for day-to-day proceedings with the consent of both the prosecution and the counsel for the accused.

Earlier this year, the prosecution learnt that a star witness in the corruption reference had ‘mysteriously disappeared’.

The witness in question, Barrister Jawad Mirza, was then declared a proclaimed offender by the Rawalpindi accountability court.

Mr Mirza was a legal consultant with NAB’s Financial Crime Investigation Wing (FCIW) in 2002, and presented volumes of documentary evidence to the investigation officer. The evidence includes documents related to money transactions, including details of bank accounts and offshore companies allegedly belonging to Mr Zardari and his family.

Unless the consultant testifies before the court, takes ownership of the documents and authenticates them, they will not be deemed admissible and won’t be treated as tangible evidence.

When contacted, NAB prosecutor Tahir Ayub told Dawn the case was in its final stages, therefore, the court had decided to go for day-to-day hearings.

He expressed the hope that proceedings would be completed in the next few days, after which the court would pass a verdict.

Mr Zardari has faced a total of six corruption references; apart from the assets reference, the former president was also implicated in the SGS, Cotecna, Polo Ground, Ursus Tractors and ARY Gold corruption references.

NAB re-opened these references once Mr Zardari had completed his term office, and the former president was acquitted in five of the six references after a re-trial before the accountability court.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2017