An accountability court on Thursday rejected a fresh application for Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's exemption from court proceedings, upholding his bailable arrest warrants in a corruption reference filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for owning assets beyond his means.
The court today also endorsed NAB's move to freeze Dar's assets and properties based in Pakistan.
As soon as proceedings on the reference began, junior counsel Ayesha Hamid — who appeared in court instead of senior counsel Khawaja Haris — filed an application exempting Dar from appearing before the court, presenting a medical report from a foreign hospital which stated that the finance minister is ill and "cannot stand for more than four minutes."
The medical report claimed that Dar is facing heart palpitations and doctors had recommended that he undergo angiography.
Objecting to the submission of the report, the NAB prosecutor said that the medical report is from a private hospital and was not submitted to court through the proper channels.
"The report should have been forwarded to the court through the the Foreign Office, which should have received it from the Pakistan High Commission," the prosecutor said.
During the proceedings, the NAB prosecutor asked that the court endorse the body's move to freeze Dar's assets abroad.
Dar's junior lawyer objected to the prosecutor's claim, saying that NAB cannot freeze Dar's assets abroad now that the case is in court.
Hamid further claimed that of all the assets that the NAB prosecutor called upon the court to freeze were Dar's Dubai properties, which she said are outside its jurisdiction since they are in a foreign country.
"Of the four bank accounts under Dar's name, only one is operational and holds Rs 20 million while the other three hold Rs232, Rs10, Rs1,990, respectively," Hamid told the court.
Hamid told the court that NAB had also sought to freeze assets which Dar had already sold. "The NAB chairman has the power to freeze assets for 15 days," the prosecutor told the court, responding to Hamid's arguments.
He said that while Pakistan does not have an arrangement to freeze citizens' assets with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a Pakistani court could ask the UAE government to freeze assets over there.
"The court can make a request and a UAE court can rule on it," the NAB prosecutor explained.
Bailable arrest warrants
In the previous hearing on Oct 30, the court had issued bailable arrest warrants for the minister after rejecting another application seeking Dar's exemption from appearance in today's hearing.
Proceedings in the trial could not advance due to Dar's absence, even though prosecution witness Abdul Rehman Gondal, branch manager of a private bank's parliament branch, had appeared in the court with two gunny sacks full of documents related to the minister's bank accounts.
At the outset of the hearing, Dar's counsel Khawaja Haris filed an application seeking exemption for the minister's appearance in the court today and adjournment of the hearing until Nov 2. The court initially reserved its decision on the matter but later rejected the application.
'Assets beyond known income'
On July 28, a five-member Supreme Court bench had ordered NAB to file three references against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and one against Dar, on petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Imran Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sirajul Haq and Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
In its reference against the finance minister, NAB has alleged that “the accused has acquired assets and pecuniary interests/resources in his own name and/or in the name of his dependants of an approximate amount of Rs831.678 million (approx)”.
The reference alleged that the assets were “disproportionate to his known sources of income for which he could not reasonably account for”.