ISLAMABAD: As the six-month deadline set by the Supreme Court for the trial of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members in corruption references expired on March 7, the apex court on Wednes­day granted two more months to the accountability court of Islamabad to decide the three cases.

The SC bench comprising Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan also granted three more months to the accountability court for the completion of proceedings in a reference against former finance minister Ishaq Dar who had been declared absconder.

However, another bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, kept the matter pertaining to the tenure of Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir, whose term for the second time will expire next week, pending till March 10 after the law secretary assured the bench that the cabinet would extend his term.

Law Secretary Karamat Hussain Niazi said the cabinet would approve the summary to grant another term in office to the judge of the accountability court, who has been hearing the references. The secretary explained that his office had forwarded a letter of the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court that he had received on Feb 26 to the cabinet for final approval. The officer was confident that the cabinet was expected to approve the summary in favour of Judge Mohammad Bashir before March 12.

The IHC administration had asked the law ministry to extend the term of service of Judge Mohammad Bashir of the accountability court-I of Islamabad, citing the paucity of judicial officers particularly in the cadre of BPS-21.

Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) additional prosecutor general informed the other bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan that there was no delay on the part of the prosecution or the defence, as evidence of most of the prosecution witnesses in all the references had been recorded.

While acknowledging that substantial work had been done by the accountability court in the references, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan asked NAB’s additional prosecutor general Mohammad Akbar Tarar to give some estimate how much more time the accountability court needed to decide the references.

In his response, Mr Tarar said two more months would be enough to complete the proceedings in the three references against Mr Sharif and his family members, while three months would be required in the reference against former finance minister Ishaq Dar as he was an absconder.

Justice Ahsan wondered how the absconding ex-minister could be elected a senator. The additional prosecutor general of NAB informed the court that a returning officer had earlier rejected his nomination papers but the same were later allowed in appeal.

“Dar was not entitled to any right,” Justice Khan wondered, adding that individuals lost their rights when they absconded.

Justice Khan again asked Mr Tarar if he was sure that the period he had suggested would be enough to take the references to their logical end. As the officer answered in affirmative, the court went on to dictate the order and disposed of the matter.

In its July 28, 2017 judgement, a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa while disqualifying the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution had directed NAB to file the references within six weeks of the verdict before the accountability court which would then be required to complete the trial within the next six months.

Subsequently, NAB moved the first reference against the former prime minister, his three children —Mariam Safdar, Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz — and son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar relating to Avenfield flats in London. Another reference against Mr Sharif and his two sons pertains to Azizia Steel Company and Hill Metal Establishment, while a third corruption reference was regarding 16 other companies including Flagship Investments Ltd, Hartstone Properties Ltd, Que Holdings Ltd, Quint Eaton Place 2 Ltd, Quint Saloane Ltd, Quaint Ltd, Flagship Securities Ltd, Quint Gloucester Place Ltd, Quint Paddington Ltd, Flagship Developments Ltd, Alanna Services Ltd (BVI), Lankin SA (BVI), Chadron Inc, Ansbacher Inc, Coomber Inc and Capital FZE (Dubai). The fourth reference was filed against the then finance minister Ishaq Dar for possessing assets and funds beyond his known sources of income.

The Supreme Court had nominated one of its judges Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan to monitor and supervise the working of NAB and to oversee the proceedings in the accountability court.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2018

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