The accountability court hearing corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif and his family members has rejected an application filed by the ousted prime minister for clubbing together the three references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
After the announcement of the judgement, Sharif was called to the rostrum and the judge read out the charges against him. The former prime minister was indicted separately in each of the three references — he pleaded "not guilty" to all the charges.
While at the rostrum, Sharif expressed his concern that since the Supreme Court had given a six-month deadline for the references to be wrapped up, deciding four references in this period would mean each case gets just 1.5 months. However, the judge observed that the cases could conclude within the timeframe if heard simultaneously.
After the indictment, the court revived summonses for the prosecution witnesses — Sidra Mansoor of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and Jahangir Ahmed of Federal Board of Revenue — for their presence in the next hearing.
The Sharif family members left the court after the hearing was adjourned until November 15.
The court had reserved its ruling on Sharif's application on Tuesday after hearing arguments from both the defence counsel and the NAB prosecution.
Nawaz Sharif along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar appeared before the accountability court in Islamabad on Wednesday as hearing resumed into the references filed under the directives of the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case verdict.
'I knew verdict would be against me'
Speaking to reporters as he left the court, Nawaz Sharif said he already knew the Supreme Court judgement on the review petitions filed against the Panama Papers case verdict would never come in his favour.
"These judges are full of grudge... their grudge and anger has come out in words," he said, commenting on the strong words used in the detailed order.
"This grudge, anger and words will become a dark chapter of history."
Sharif said the judiciary had penned several dark chapters in Pakistan's history during dictatorial rules and the judgement on the review petition would be "written in dark letters" as well.
Forgery charge deleted
The court on Wednesday also decided on an application filed by Maryam Nawaz and her husband Safdar for deletion of a charge related to the use of Calibri font.
The accountability court had on Oct 19 indicted Maryam and Safdar in the Avenfield reference related to London properties. Besides other charges, the court also charged Maryam with signing a document in Calibri font in February 2006 when that font did not exist.
Announcing its judgement, the court decided to delete Section 3(a) of National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 dealing with forgery from the charges against the couple.
The charge could be reinstated in case the prosecution comes up with solid evidence against the accused related to forgery.
The application filed by Advocate Amjad Pervez had pointed out that “as per mandatory provision envisage by Section 30 of the NAO 1999, the cognizance of an offence of false evidence committed in the course of the investigation or trial is to be taken upon pronouncement of judgement”.
Ishaq Dar nominates pleader
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who was scheduled to appear before the court on Wednesday in connection with the reference trial, filed an application in the court to nominate a pleader.
The application filed by Dar's junior counsel stated that he is currently in London due to ill health and would prefer to be represented by a pleader in the court on his behalf.
Interestingly, Dar nominated Zafir Khan as his pleader, the same person who pleaded on behalf of Nawaz Sharif while he was in London attending to his wife.
Dar's counsel also submitted to the court the minister's medical report verified by the Foreign Office.
NAB prosecution opposed the application, urging the court to issue non-bailable arrest warrants against the accused.
After initially reserving its judgement on the application, the court declared that Dar must appear in the court himself and he could then file an application stating he wants to be represented by a pleader.
The court upheld the bailable arrest warrants previously issued against Dar and doubled the surety ordered against the warrants from Rs1 million to 2m. The hearing of the case was adjourned until November 14.
References filed in haste?
It appears that NAB filed references against the ousted prime minister and his children in ‘haste’ as the prosecution told the accountability court on Tuesday that NAB was still waiting for key evidence from other countries.
Special prosecutor Wasiq Malik during the course of arguments had opposed Sharif’s application for clubbing together the three references and said that NAB under the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) was seeking key evidence from other countries on the basis of which the number of accused persons might increase in each of three references.
“If we could get any tangible evidence, we will be in position to implicate other accused persons as mentioned in the July 28 verdict of the Supreme Court,” Malik had said.
Advocate Khawaja Haris, counsel of Sharif, had pointed out that NAB should have waited for evidence before filing of references. “They should have completed the investigation and would file the reference after receipt of evidence,” he had argued.
The counsel had argued that the offences against Sharif in all three references were identical and same in nature. He requested the court to club the references for a joint trial of all the accused persons.
Deputy prosecutor general Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, however, had opposed clubbing of references, pointing out that the Supreme Court had passed specific directions for filing of three references against the Sharif family and one against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in its July 28 verdict.
He said that the Section 234 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and Section 17-D of the NAO was for single accused where as in all the three references, there was a set of accused persons in each reference.
He said that the references, including Flagship Investment Co, were related to the private firms established by Hassan Nawaz in the UK, Al-Azizia reference was about the companies owned by Hussain Nawaz in Saudi Arabia whereas the Avenfield Properties reference alleged all the Sharif family members of purchasing four flats in Park Lane, UK, without legitimate financial means.
A five-member bench of the Supreme Court on July 28 had directed NAB to file references against Nawaz and his children in six weeks in the accountability court and directed the trial court to decide the references within six months.
The Supreme Court also assigned Justice Ijazul Ahsan a supervisory role to monitor the progress of the accountability court proceedings.
The former premier and his sons, Hassan and Hussain, have been named in all three NAB references, while Maryam and husband Safdar have been named only in the Avenfield reference.