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ISLAMABAD: The ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who has been facing trial in Avenfield properties, Gulf Steel Mills and Al-Azizia Steel Mills references, on Tuesday claimed that the recently extended deadline by the Supreme Court for the completion of proceedings against him would adversely affect his party (PML-N) performance in the July 25 general elections.

While appearing before the accountability court, Mr Sharif said the trial was being conducted at an unprecedentedly fast pace and there was not a single example of such speedy trial in the past and under direct supervision of a Supreme Court judge. Judge Mohammad Bashir of the accountability court explained to the former premier that there were precedents of appointment of monitoring judge and setting deadlines for disposal of cases.

The ex-premier then claimed: “I want this case should conclude as early as possible since I am also suffering. If the Chief Justice of Pakistan wants to regulate this case, he may transfer it before his own bench to give a verdict to hang me or send me to jail.”

Judge says SC never made it mandatory upon accountability court to conduct proceedings on Saturdays

The Supreme Court had issued direction to conduct proceedings even on Saturdays, he complained. The judge explained to him that the apex court in its order of June 10 never made it mandatory to conduct proceeding on Saturdays and it was left to the trial court’s discretion. “If they had left it on the accountability court, then the deadline should also be left to the discretion of this court,” Mr Sharif demanded.

Due to such pressures, he said, his lead defence counsel Khwaja Haris Ahmed filed an application to withdraw his attorney papers from the case. However, when the accountability judge asked him if he had engaged another lawyer, Mr Sharif said: “It is not easy to engage a lawyer in such tough conditions no one may agree to work under pressure.” Judge Bashir explained to Mr Sharif that he had not accepted the application of Advocate Haris for the withdrawal of vakalatnama. Therefore, he could convince his lawyer to take back his decision and resume work on the case, the judge added.

Mr Sharif, who also had assailed the judiciary during his press conference in Lahore on Monday, further complained before the accountability court that Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar’s remarks that for the sake of publicity he had moved applications for exemption from court appearance to visit his ailing wife. “This had really hurt me since I never had filed any such application before the CJP,” he said.

When additional deputy prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said that the court should conclude the reference within 30 days under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, the defence counsel for Mr Sharif, Amjad Pervez, said it was the prosecution that could not close its evidence despite the lapse of nine months and NAB had conceded before the Supreme Court that the defence counsel had not caused any delay.

When Mr Abbasi insisted the court start final arguments, Judge Bashir said: “Don’t try to overreact. We want to sort out this issue first.” Finally when the judge asked the defence counsel, Amjad Pervez, to start final arguments from Wednesday, Mr Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, who is also one of the accused persons, said she had to appear before returning officer for scrutiny of her nomination papers.

Subsequently, the court put off the proceedings till Thursday.

Earlier when accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir resumed the Avenfield reference proceedings, Mr Sharif asked for time to hire a fresh attorney, saying: “My lawyer has recused himself and so it is my fundamental right to engage a new lawyer of my choice. Since Haris was well-versed with the case, it is not easy for me to engage another lawyer at this stage.”

He said the SC had pressed for the early disposal of the references and that Advocate Haris had made it clear that he could not work in “such an environment”.

The accountability court judge explained to Mr Sharif that the SC’s observations and remarks were not part of the written order and “if Haris chooses not to reconsider his decision then you should engage a new lawyer” by June 19. He said the hearing of Al-Azizia reference would resume on June 19 when the defence counsel would be required to cross-examine the prosecution witness, Wajid Zia.

‘Pre-poll rigging’

While talking to the media persons before the court’s proceeding, Mr Sharif rejected rumours about his deal with the establishment to get rid from the NAB references. He said everyone knew why his conviction was needed before the general elections. “Isn’t this pre-poll rigging? My removal from PM House, party office and disqualification for life could not satisfy the ego of certain quarters and they want my conviction just before polling day,” he alleged.

The ousted prime minister said that the judiciary had relaxed the law of land for a military dictator retired Gen Musharraf who was allowed to contest elections, but an elected PM had been permanently barred from politics. Besides, he added, NAB had recently requested the interior ministry to place him on the exit control list.

He said the Pakistani media were not reporting “freely and independently” because they were working “under certain pressures”. He questioned the credibility of the elections in such an environment.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018