The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday granted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) a six-week extension to wrap up the remaining corruption references filed against the Sharif family and former finance minister Ishaq Dar.
The three remaining references, which include one each against the Sharif family's Flagship Investments and Al Azizia Steel Mills, and one reference against Dar, were among four initiated by NAB on the apex court's orders in the Panama Papers judgement last year.
A NAB court last week sentenced Nawaz Sharif to 10 years in prison, his daughter Maryam to seven years and his son-in-law Capt Safdar to one year in prison in the Avenfield corruption reference]1. Fines of £8 million and £2 million were imposed on the father and daughter respectively.
During today's hearing of a case pertaining to NAB's request for an extension to wrap up the remaining references, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar said that he wanted all references to conclude as soon as possible, and ordered NAB to conclude its proceedings within six weeks.
NAB lawyer Akbar Tarar told the bench comprising the CJP and Justice Ijazul Ahsan that there were 18 witnesses in the Flagship Investments reference, out of which 14 had already recorded their statements in court. Two witnesses were yet to be cross-questioned, the prosecutor said.
In the Al Azizia reference, Tarar said that 20 witnesses had recorded their statements. The next hearing of the reference was scheduled for July 12.
He added that no proceedings had been held in the remaining references against the Sharifs since June 11.
The third case, Reference no. 21, is related to Dar, who has been declared an absconder, he told the apex court. CJP Nisar pointed out that the SC had also summoned Dar in a case regarding his eligibility to hold a seat in the Senate, but he had failed to appear so far. He then asked NAB's lawyer if a sentence can be passed in the absence of the accused.
In March, the SC had given NAB two months to wrap up the references. So far the accountability court has only issued a verdict in the Avenfield reference.
Nawaz's lawyer raises objections over accountability judge
During the hearing, Nawaz's counsel, who was also present in court, raised objections over accountability judge Mohammad Bashir — who had announced the verdict in the Avenfield reference — hearing the remaining references.
Khawaja Haris argued that since the witnesses and evidence in the remaining references are similar, the judge's verdict will probably be the same as the one pronounced in the Avenfield reference and therefore, the cases must be heard by another judge.
"There are similarities in all references, yet they were not clubbed together," he said, referring to an earlier appeal by Nawaz to club together all corruption references against him. The appeal had been rejected by the accountability court.
Justice Ahsan, however, refuted Haris' claim saying that witnesses in the Flagship Investments and Al Azizia references were different and there was "no similarity between the two [remaining] references".
"How can a judge who has been hearing and recording witnesses in each reference be changed?" he asked, adding that the court was not "inclined" toward Haris' objections in the matter.
Justice Nisar reiterated Justice Ahsan's response, saying that Haris "could not raise objections". He assured Haris that the apex court "could not even think of [being] unfair".
"Do you know how much the Supreme Court is serving the nation?" Justice Nisar asked.
The chief justice acknowledged that Haris works hard "in Serena Hotel till 3am" but reminded him that he [Justice Nisar] had not been able to rest for days either.
On Monday, Haris had urged the accountability court judge Bashir to recuse himself from the remaining cases, arguing that since the evidence in both the cases was similar, the verdict in Al Azizia reference could be the same.
Judge Bashir had agreed to refer the matter to Islamabad High Court. If the high court deems Haris' arguments valid, the case could be transferred to another accountability court.