Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday left an accountability court, where he had been summoned in connection with three graft cases prepared by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against him and his family, without being formally charged with a crime.
The former PM had arrived around 8:30am at the court amidst a heavy deployment of Rangers personnel. A helicopter hovered overhead and supporters chanted slogans from behind security barriers as Nawaz arrived in a convoy of BMW SUVs escorted by elite police guards, AFP reported.
During the hearing, his lawyer argued that all of the accused in the case must be present in court before they could be indicted in the cases. The accused — Nawaz; his children Hussain, Hassan, and Maryam; and son-in-law Mohammad Safdar — are now expected to appear on October 9 to be formally indicted.
The court has issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the men and a bailable warrant for Maryam, likely keeping in mind that she may need to stay with her mother in London.
While speaking to the media, PML-N lawyer Khawaja Haris explained that: "Nawaz Sharif's children have no problem with appearing in court; they have been unable to do so as their mother is ill and they are all in London."
Previously, NAB had sent bailable arrest warrants issued by an accountability court in Islamabad on Sept 26 for Sharif's children and son-in-law to their residences in Lahore and London.
Drama outside the court
Earlier in the day, it was said that, unlike the last hearing — during which Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was indicted — reporters would be permitted to witness the proceedings.
However, no one — including the senior PML-N leadership — was allowed to set foot in the court before the former prime minister entered it.
After waiting outside for nearly 30 minutes, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal lashed out at security forces for keeping party leaders, lawyers and Nawaz's supporters from entering the court.
Iqbal, while speaking to the media, said that security forces had barred party leaders, lawyers and supporters of Nawaz Sharif from entering the court despite an earlier decision to let selected PML-N members and media personnel go in.
To diffuse the tension created by Iqbal’s outburst, the Rangers’ chief met the PML-N leadership present and asked them to enter the court's premises.
However, Iqbal refused and said he would "get to the bottom of the matter" and find out who had issued the order to security forces to bar media personnel and the PML-N leadership from entering the building.
He said the Islamabad chief commissioner had earlier decided on the names of media personnel and PML-N leaders and supporters who would be allowed to enter the court on Monday, adding that the commissioner informed him earlier in the day that the "Rangers have suddenly appeared and taken over this place".
Sharif had earlier appeared before the accountability court on September 26 in connection with three corruption references filed by NAB against him and his family members.
During the brief hearing, the court had turned down a request for the former prime minister's exemption from personal attendance during the court's proceedings.
The Supreme Court had disqualified Nawaz from holding public office on July 28 in the Panama Papers case and ordered NAB to file corruption and money laundering references against the Sharif family and Finance Minister Dar in the light of a Joint Investigation Team report into the family's business dealings abroad.
Dar has already been indicted in the reference against him for possessing assets beyond his known sources of income.
As a result, NAB had filed three references against the Sharif family in connection with the London properties and the establishment of 16 companies, including Flagship Investment Ltd in the UK and Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment in Jeddah.
The former premier and his sons have been named in all three references, while Maryam and Safdar have only been named in the Avenfield reference.
Sharif children yet to appear before court
The former prime minister's children and son-in-law have failed to appear in court for the third time, despite the arrest warrants issued against them by the accountability court.
“Since Mian sahib’s children are busy looking after their mother [Kulsoom Nawaz] they are unlikely to appear in the accountability court in Islamabad on Oct 2,” Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah had told Dawn on Saturday.
He said that Sharif's children could not leave their mother considering her illness. Begum Kulsoom has undergone three surgeries in connection with lymphoma (throat cancer) in London. Her condition is stable, according to Maryam.
Skipping court proceedings for the third consecutive time may result in the court issuing non-bailable warrants, a legal expert had warned.
“The accountability court may issue non-bailable arrest warrants for the suspects for skipping the proceedings for the third consecutive time. However, in normal practice, non-bailable arrest warrants are issued for continuous non-compliance of the court’s order,” Supreme Court Advocate Mubeen Qazi had told Dawn.
However, it is the court’s discretion to issue non-bailable arrests warrants or give the suspects another chance in any case.
“In [the case of] continuous non-appearance, the National Accountability Bureau may write to the interior ministry requesting the issuance of red warrants for the suspect,” Advocate Qazi had said.
The non-bailable warrants were issued on Monday.
Maryam, who has been active on social media, especially after arriving in London, did not reveal whether she was planning to appear before the court or not. She had earlier advised her father not to appear in the accountability court — counsel which he ignored.
On Saturday she had tweeted: “What was the ‘ilzam’ (allegation) in Panama Papers case? There was no ilzam. Had there been anything scandalous in it, they wouldn’t have to hide behind iqama (work permit). He (Nawaz) could have been disqualified for being Nawaz Sharif. That could have been the most plausible excuse.”