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ISLAMABAD: The accountability court of Islamabad has sought yet another extension to conclude trial in three references against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family as the new deadline given to it by the Supreme Court will expire on May 12.

During the hearing of Avenfield properties reference, Judge Mohammad Bashir of the accountability court said on Tuesday he had sent a formal request to the apex court for extending the deadline, as proceedings in the Avenfield properties, Al-Azizia and Flagship references were yet to conclude.

Take a look: Analysis: What next for Nawaz Sharif?

The judge had requested the apex court earlier in March for an extension in the time frame to conclude the trial in the references filed by the National Accountability Bureau in accordance with the directive of the Supreme Court given last year.

New deadline given by SC set to expire on 12th

The apex court in its judgement in the Panama Papers case on July 28, 2017 had disqualified the former prime minister and directed NAB to file three references against him, his daughter Maryam, son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar and sons Hussain and Hassan. Accountability Judge Bashir was not sure about the duration of further extension, but he remarked during the hearing that the remaining proceedings in the references would be planned in accordance with the time frame.

Amjad Pervez, counsel for the Sharif family, said the court had already conducted the trial at an unprecedented pace, as in the past not a single case had ever been tried in such a short span of time.

The accountability court examined all the prosecution witnesses in the Avenfield reference, while two witnesses — head of the joint investigation team (JIT) Wajid Zia and the investigation officer — have yet to record their statements in Al-Azizia and Flagship references and the rest of the witnesses have already been testified.

The accountability court has summoned Wajid Zia for recording his testimony in Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establish­ment reference on May 10. Head of the prosecution Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi argued that after examining the prosecution witnesses the court should summon Mr Sharif and other accused for recording their statements under Sec­tion 342 of the criminal procedure code.

The court said it would decide later whether or not to record the statements of accused persons in Avenfield apartments reference after the Supreme Court decided about the extension.

The lead counsel for Mr Sharif, Khawaja Haris Ahmad, asked whether everything would be done according to the wish of the prosecution. It had been already settled that Wajid Zia would record statements in the three references first, he said, adding that the court had summoned him for recording his statement in Al-Azizia reference, but he skipped proceedings on around 20 dates.

Advocate Haris said if the accused persons recorded their statements before the statements of all the prosecution witnesses it would expose their defence. He requested the court to first record the statement of the JIT head in the two other references of Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment. The defence counsel suggested that the trial could be concluded after three months.

Advocate Pervez argued that fair trial demanded equal time be given to both sides. As the prosecution had consumed eight months to record statements of 18 witnesses, the defence side should also be given similar time, he demanded.

The accountability court will resume hearing of the Al-Azizia reference on May 10.

‘Application for acquittal’

Sources in the PML-N said that Mr Sharif had been advised by his aides to oppose the NAB move to seek more time for completion of the trial and move an application seeking acquittal in the cases.

The lawyers and leaders who met the PML-N’s supreme leader were of the view that “since NAB had failed to prove charges against the Sharif family members” in eight months, it would not be able to do so in the next two months.

The sources said those who met Mr Sharif at the Punjab House separately included Special Assistant to the PM on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan, former law minister Zahid Hamid, Federal Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, Punjab Governor Rafiq Rajwana, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Senator Pervez Rashid.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2018