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Justice Asif Saeed Khosa — Photo Courtesy: Supreme Court of Pakistan
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa — Photo Courtesy: Supreme Court of Pakistan

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa on Monday recused himself from a Supreme Court (SC) bench constituted to deliberate a reference pertaining to the Sharif family's Hudaibiya Paper Mills and asked Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar to set up a new bench to hear the case.

Justice Khosa, who was appointed to head the bench, distanced himself from the case as soon as the court proceedings started and said, "I think the registrar's office made a mistake by putting this case on my roster as I have already written 14 paragraphs on this matter in the April 20 Panama Papers verdict."

"I think the registrar's office has not read my Panamagate verdict. In it, I even gave my ruling on the matter as far as Ishaq Dar is concerned," he added.

Recapping his verdict in the case, Justice Khosa said, "Ishaq Dar was an accused in the case, then he turned into an approver."

"However, once the previous verdict in the case is going to be rendered void, Dar's status as approver will also end," he added.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor asked the court that the case be heard next week.

Approving the NAB prosecutor's request, Justice Khosa sent an application to the chief justice asking that a new bench be created to hear the case.

NAB had appealed to the apex court against the Lahore High Court's 2014 decision to acquit Nawaz Sharif and several members of his family in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case.

In its appeal, the bureau had asked the apex court to set aside the 2014 judgement "in the interest of justice, fair play and equity".

Naming Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, their deceased brother Abbas Sharif and five other family members as respondents, NAB had urged the court to declare the LHC judgement void and illegal.

NAB had argued in its appeal that the referee judge was not "competent" to set aside the findings of the high court, in which NAB had been allowed to re-initiate investigations against Sharif family members.

It had said when the Panamagate joint investigating team (JIT) formed to probe corruption allegations against the Sharif family in the long-drawn case had collected further incriminating evidence relating to Hudaibiya Paper Mills, "NAB cannot be debarred/restrained from proceeding further with the investigation."

The JIT had in its report had recommended that the Hudaibiya Paper Mills Case should be reopened.

Based on the recommendation, the SC in its July 28 verdict in the Panamagate case had asked the bureau to reopen the case while it filed references in other cases.

It had also questioned the role of NAB, which had seemingly favoured the Sharifs in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case by not challenging LHC's decision to quash it.

Hudaibiya Paper Mills case

The 2000 Hudaibiya Paper Mills money laundering reference was initiated on the basis of an April 25, 2000 confession statement from Ishaq Dar, wherein he admitted to his role in laundering money to the tune of $14.86 million on behalf of the Sharifs through fictitious accounts.

The witness was, however, pardoned by the then NAB chairman.

High court referee judge Justice Sardar Shamim had quashed the reference on March 11, 2014 on the grounds that if a re-investigation was allowed against the Sharif family, it would provide an opportunity to investigators to pad up lacunas.

The LHC had quashed the case as the PML-N continued to claim that Dar's statement was taken under duress.

Later, NAB had decided not to challenge the high court’s decision.

While Nawaz Sharif was not named in the interim reference filed in March 2000, in the final reference against the Hudaibya Paper Mills — approved by then chairman NAB Khalid Maqbool — the bureau had accused Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Abbas Sharif, Hussain Nawaz, Hamza Shahbaz, Shamim Akhtar, Sabiha Abbas and Maryam Nawaz.