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ISLAMABAD: For the fourth time, the Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the deadline for an accountability court to complete proceedings in corruption cases against ousted premier Nawaz Sharif and his family.

While Judge Mohammad Bashir of the accountability court through an application had sought four more weeks to decide Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment references, a two-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, granted another six weeks to complete the proceedings.

Only last week, the same accountability court had handed down a verdict that gave 10 years imprisonment to Nawaz Sharif, seven-year jail term to his daughter Maryam Nawaz and one year in prison to his son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield properties reference.

Also, defence counsel Khawaja Haris had requested the SC to order that Judge Mohammad Bashir may not hear Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment references, because the judge had convicted his clients in the London flats case. However, as the SC observed that it was not inclined to accept the plea, the senior counsel argued it would be better that the matter be left to the accountability court judge to decide.

“Then why did you raise the issue before this court?” the CJP asked before explaining that the court would have to give its findings as the plea had already been taken up. This would be “unfair”, retorted the counsel for Mr Sharif. The CJP said what service the counsel was doing by attributing the word “unfair” to the apex court.

SC extends deadline for accountability court to conclude Al-Azizia Steel Mills, Flagship Investment references

The counsel, however, insisted that any order on part of the apex court could prejudice his case before the accountability court and it would be in the fitness of things that the SC should not make this plea as part of its order and let the accountability judge decide the matter on its own.

About the Flagship Investment reference against the Sharifs, additional prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Akbar Tarar told the SC bench that the testimonies of 14 of the total 18 witnesses had been recorded.

In Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference, Mr Tarar said accountability court had so far recorded statements of 20 of the total 26 witnesses. The statement of Wajid Zia, who headed the six-member Joint Investigation Team, was still being recorded.

The Steel Mills reference also includes the name of former finance minister Ishaq Dar who has been in the UK for past many months.

At this, the SC wondered whether or not Mr Dar was an absconder and could be punished in absentia.

The NAB official said an absconder could be awarded punishment under Section 31 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO).

However, he added, no headway was made in the proceedings of the two references last month.

Acknowledging that the senior defence counsel, Khawaja Haris, had to be given ample time to defend his clients, the Supreme Court bench expressed confidence that he would complete arguments within the given time frame. The court observed that the bench preferred to give six more weeks to the accountability court despite its plea for four weeks.

Advocate Haris reiterated that he had earlier too requested the court that all the three references against his clients be heard simultaneously but his request had not been accepted.

Once the statements of all witnesses are recorded in Al-Azizia Steel Mills and the Flagship Investment references, the defence counsel would cross-examine the witnesses.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018