ISLAMABAD: A day before ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif is due to face the references filed against him, an accountability court decided to indict Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday (tomorrow).
On Monday, Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir handed over a copy of the reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to Mr Dar’s counsel, along with copies of related documents, which comprise 23 volumes.
The court rejected a request by Mr Dar’s counsel, Amjad Pervez, to grant them seven days to peruse the voluminous record, saying that since the Supreme Court had set a six-month deadline, he could not adjourn proceedings for a week.
Outside the court, Advocate Pervez said it appeared that the judge had rejected his request owing to pressure from the apex court, given that a Supreme Court judge from the bench that heard the Panama Papers case was also supervising proceedings.
This is the same court that was also dealing with corruption references against former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and took several months to indict the accused.
For example, in a reference related to Naudero-II Rental Power Project, the same court took up the case in November 2013, but indicted the former PM in January 2014.
Lawyers say no accused has ever been indicted within 48 hours of first appearance in court
According to Amjad Iqbal Qureshi, counsel for Mr Ashraf, the accountability court had never indicted an accused within 48 hours of his first appearance in court since the promulgation of National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) in 1999.
Even the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which also applied to accountability court proceedings, states in Section 265-C that the documents are to be provided to the accused “not later than 7 days before the commencement of trial”.
Advocate Qureshi said seven days was a reasonable time for an accused or his lawyer to examine the allegations and related documents produced by the prosecution in the trial court.
Even the military court constituted under the amended Pakistan Army Act (PAA) gives an accused eight days before commending field general court martial proceedings.
But in this case, the accountability judge directed Mr Dar and his counsel to appear on Sept 27 for indictment.
The judge also announced that the court would begin day-to-day proceedings in the matter following the indictment “due to the urgency of the case”.
Mr Dar also explained to the court why he did not show up for the Sept 20 hearing, saying that he had to proceed to London to inquire after the health of ailing Kulsoom Nawaz, the mother of his daughter-in-law.
He said that he had not been formally informed about the court summons before his departure and came to know of the development through the media, which reported NAB raids on his homes in Islamabad and Lahore.
NAB filed three references against Nawaz Sharif and his children and one against Mr Dar, on the directions of the Supreme Court, on Sept 8.
On Sept 18, the Lahore NAB wrote to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to remind them that since a reference was pending against him, “the bank accounts of Mr Dar may be cautioned”.
The bureau, however, left room for transactions from these accounts, as NAB has made them subject to the orders of the accountability court.
NAB has also written to district governments, asking them to stop any transfer or disposal of the properties owned by Mr Dar, warning that in case of non-compliance, they could face up to three years in prison under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2017