The accountability court on Wednesday adjourned trial proceedings in the Al-Azizia corruption reference against the Sharif family until July 30 after former premier Nawaz Sharif’s counsel informed Judge Mohammad Bashir that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had admitted petitions seeking transfer of the references from Bashir's court.
An IHC division bench on Tuesday issued a notice to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Nawaz's petitions seeking the transfer of the Al-Azizia and Flagship references from the court of Judge Bashir to another accountability court. The IHC will hear the petition on July 30.
Nawaz's lawyer Khawaja Haris today maintained that it was not appropriate for Judge Bashir to hear the other two references after he had already made a conclusive decision in the Avenfield reference on the basis of evidence which is common to all three references.
Judge Bashir replied that he had written to the IHC seeking to recuse himself from the case and was waiting for their reply and reminded Haris that that the defence counsel had also filed a petition for the transfer of the references to another court.
Haris responded that since the IHC bench had decided to seek assistance from NAB, the court could not pass an order as no one from the prosecution was present inside the court room. He also expressed surprise at the fact that the prosecutors had not bothered to attend the first hearing of the petition.
He said that the IHC was told that the defence lawyers would not join proceedings until a decision was made on the matter of transferring the cases to a different court.
Nawaz's lawyer informed the judge that the Adiala Jail administration had not permitted him to meet the convicted former prime minister in spite of repeated attempts to do so.
During the hearing, Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, the additional deputy prosecutor general NAB produced two notifications for a jail trial of Sharif in the Al-Azizia and Flagship references. He asserted that IHC had not issued any restraining order for the accountability court.
Judge Bashir replied that it is not easy to conduct a trial in jail as there are certain formalities which need to be fulfilled.
When the judge sought Haris’ opinion on the matter, he replied that the government should have issued the notification with the consent of all stakeholders.
Accountability trial to be held in court building, not Adiala
During a press conference on Wednesday, caretaker Minister for Information and Broadcasting Syed Ali Zafar clarified that the trials for Al Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments references will be held in the accountability court building instead of Adiala jail, where Nawaz Sharif — who is named in both references — is imprisoned.
This is in contrast to the law ministry's earlier notification, in which it had announced that the accountability court will conduct the trials for both references in Adiala jail. The announcement attracted strong protests from the PML-N, who termed it as "unconstitutional".
In his presser today, Zafar said the decision to hold the trial of the corruption references in Adiala was taken in response to a letter written by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), in which the body requested the government to change the venue citing "security issues". However, he insisted that the request was limited to one hearing, that was to be held one day after the arrival and arrest of Sharif and Maryam.
Zafar referred to Section 16 of the NAB Ordinance that allows the anti-corruption watchdog's chairman, prosecutor and the accused to request the government to shift the venue of the trial elsewhere.
However, the federal government had today decided that the hearings for the corruption references will be held in the accountability court's building, he said.
In case of a security threat, the Ministry of Interior could write to the cabinet requesting to change the venue of the trial.
Two hearings of the corruption references have been held since the law ministry's notification; however, both of them have been held in the accountability court's building. Sharif was not produced before the court in either of the hearings.
The law ministry has yet to formally withdraw its notification announcing that the trials will take place at Adiala jail.