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ISLAMABAD: An accountability court on Friday rejected an application of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for recording of statement of star witness Wajid Zia in three references simultaneously and permission to cross-examine him at consecutive hearings.

While dismissing the application, Judge Mohammad Bashir of the Accountability Court of Islamabad issued summons for Mr Zia, who headed the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that probed the assets of the applicant and his children on an apex court order, to record his testimony in the Avenfield Apartments reference on March 8.

The counsel for Mr Sharif, Advocate Khawaja Haris Ahmed, argued during the proceedings that giving multiple opportunities to the JIT chief to record his statement would allow him to improve his argument that may hamper the Sharif family’s defence. However, prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said if Mr Zia changed his statement it would only benefit the Sharif family, allowing them to raise objections to the evidence.

The defence counsel demanded the witness record his statement in all three references so that he could be cross-examined. He cited a previous instance where Islamabad High Court had allowed that a “request can be made to the learned trial court for cross-examination of joint witnesses common in three references on the same or the following day so that they have little or no chance for thinking and improving upon what is to be said”.

Each of the three references was supplemented by the same nine volumes of the JIT report that Mr Zia had produced before the investigation officer of the National Accountability Bureau, he said, adding that no prejudice would be caused to the prosecution if the application for recording of testimony in the references was allowed.

The prosecutor said the Supreme Court, the high court and the trial court had already turned down Sharifs’ request to combine the charge and references and the trial court had separately been recording testimonies of the witnesses.

The former prime minister and his two sons have been named in all three interim and supplementary references, while his daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband retired captain Mohammad Safdar have only been named in the interim and supplementary reference pertaining to the Avenfield properties.

The Supreme Court in its July 28, 2017 judgement had directed NAB to file references against Mr Sharif, his sons, daughter and son in-law within six weeks.

During the proceedings on Friday, Mr Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz remained in the courtroom till 11am. While witnessing the proceedings, Mr Sharif also examined the paper book that his archrival Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan had submitted before the Supreme Court to defend legality of his Banigala residence. Minister for the Capital Administration and Development Division Tariq Fazal Chaudhry explained certain aspects of the case to Mr Sharif. He was informed that the approval for the building plan appeared to be bogus, as the relevant chairman of the union council in a written affidavit had declared it fake.

Maryam Nawaz also scanned the paper book and participated in the discussion.

After briefing Mr Sharif, the minister took a vacant seat inside the courtroom. But security staff asked him to vacate the seat which they said had been reserved for Mr Zia, the JIT chief.

Unlike past, the security staff confined the media crew at the left corner of the accountability court. A security official said the accountability judge had strictly ordered the security staff not to let the journalists interact with one another or the people sitting in the courtroom during the proceeding.

This procedure is, however, not adopted by the Supreme Court and high courts during the media coverage of legal proceedings.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2018