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ISLAMABAD: The lead defence counsel for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Khawaja Haris Ahmed, who had recused himself from pleading the Avenfield property and other NAB cases over a week ago in reaction to a Supreme Court order, rejoined the proceedings on Tuesday and gave an outline of his final arguments.

The counsel had filed an application on June 11 before the accountability court for withdrawal of his attorney papers in reaction to the apex court’s remarks that the accountability court should conclude the proceedings against Mr Sharif within 30 days as the deadline for completion of the trial had been extended thrice over the past 10 months.

On Tuesday, the accountability court on a request of the defence counsel exempted the ousted prime minister from court appearance this week, as he is currently in London to see his ailing wife. The court was informed that the PML-N supreme leader would return to the country on Saturday and appear before the court by next Monday.

While giving outline of his final arguments, the counsel said he would brief the court about the background of Panama Papers, filing of petitions in the Supreme Court, formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the preparation of JIT report, its submission to the apex court, filing of references, testimonies and cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.

Earlier, Advocate Khawaja Haris expressed his inability to work on Saturdays and Sundays, which are official weekly holidays for the special courts, and said it was impossible for him to pursue the cases under such pressure.

He said the apex court in its June 10 order had asked the accountability court to conclude the corruption references within 30 days by conducting hearing on a daily basis including Saturdays if needed. He filed an application expressing reservations over the SC order that he said had led him to distance himself from the Avenfield Property reference.

He said he had been dealing with the Panama Papers case for the past two years and did not want that ground realities were overlooked. He said the case was complicated which required him to study thousands of documents on a daily basis. He reiterated that he could not pursue the case efficiently if hearings were scheduled on Saturdays and beyond the court timing.

When Advocate Haris said the SC lacked the jurisdiction to regulate such matters as court timings and conduct of trial proceedings was the sole discretion of the accountability court, Judge Mohammad Bashir made it clear that the apex court had left it on him to conduct and regulate the proceedings in Avenfield Property case. The judge also observed that the SC’s remarks regarding weekend hearings were not part of the written order.

The accountability court, however, welcomed his decision to rejoin the proceedings.

NAB prosecutor Muzaffar Abbasi also welcomed the defence counsel’s decision and said the proceedings in references against the Sharif family had been under way for the past 10 months.

Under Section 16 of the National Accountability Ordinance, a reference should be disposed of within 30 days, he said, adding that the court had already been granted extension at least three times by the Supreme Court for the completion of the trial against Mr Sharif.

At this, Advocate Haris said it was the prosecution that had not closed its evidence in the references against Mr Sharif. But he added, “I do not want to blame NAB for delay as I know that it is a complicated case.”

Nawaz granted exemption

Meanwhile, the court exempted Mr Sharif, who has been in London for the past few days to see his ailing wife, from court appearance for one week on his counsel’s request.

Mr Sharif was earlier allowed to take a break from the corruption references and allowed to travel to London on a Supreme Court order. He along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz — also facing corruption references — was scheduled to return after Eid but he postponed the plan after his wife suffered a cardiac arrest and was put on a ventilator.

The defence counsel said the PML-N supreme leader would return to the country on Saturday and appear before the court next Monday. The NAB counsel did not object to this request.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2018