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ANF plans to move SC against verdict in ephedrine case

Updated April 14, 2019

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Hanif Abbasi had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Control of Narcotics Substances court a few days before the 2018 general election. ─ AP/File
Hanif Abbasi had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Control of Narcotics Substances court a few days before the 2018 general election. ─ AP/File

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: With the Lahore High Court (LHC) explaining reasons for suspending the sentence awarded to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Mohammad Hanif Abbasi in the 2012 ephedrine quota case and granting him bail, the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) declared on Saturday it intended to challenge the judgement in the Supreme Court next week.

Mr Abbasi was set free in the evening from the camp jail in Lahore after the high court’s judicial branch issued a release order following verification of two bail bonds of Rs5 million each that were deposited on behalf of the PML-N leader.

Scores of PML-N workers, who had gathered outside the camp jail, showered rose petals on Mr Abbasi when he was set free. He later left for Rawalpindi.

Mr Abbasi had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Control of Narcotics Substances court a few days before the 2018 general election. He could not contest the election because of his conviction.

PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi set free on bail

When asked to comment on the LHC judgement, ANF’s special prosecutor Chaudhry Ihtsham said his department would proceed in the matter in accordance with the law. Under the law, ANF could move the apex court for cancellation of bail.

Sources in the ANF told Dawn that Section 51 of the Control of Narcotics Substances (CNS) Act, 1997 barred the courts from granting bail in case the sentence of life imprisonment or death was awarded to an accused.

The said section states: “Bail shall not be granted to an accused person charged with an offence under this Act or under any other law relating to narcotics where the offence is punishable with death.”

The sources said that under Section 426 of the Act, the LHC could not take up the case before passage of at least two years of imprisonment of Mr Abbasi.

They said that another ground for appeal against the LHC verdict was provided in Section 29 of the Act according to which the CNS court was empowered to presume an accused guilty unless he/she proved himself/herself to be innocent.

This section states: “In trials under this Act, it may be presumed, unless and until the contrary is proved, that the accused has committed an offence under this Act.”

High court’s verdict

In its detailed judgement issued on Saturday, a two-judge bench of the LHC declared that the prosecution had failed to establish that by misusing ephedrine quota the PML-N leader had prepared methamphetamine, which is used mainly as a recreational drug.

“The allegation of misusing the [ephedrine] quota also needs serious consideration,” said the order.

The bench pointed out that the federal government’s law officer had admitted that no notification had been issued terming ephedrine a contraband substance under the CNS Act, 1997. The trial court had merely relied on printouts obtained from a “Google search” to declare the stimulant as a controlled substance.

The bench comprising Justice Aalia Neelum and Justice Sardar Muhammad Sarfraz Dogar had on Thursday granted bail to Mr Abbasi by suspending his sentence in the case lodged by the ANF against a total of eight persons.

The prosecution’s case was that Mr Abbasi availed 500kg of ephedrine for his firm Gray’s Pharmaceutical and did not possess and use it for industrial purposes; rather he sold the same to drug smugglers and obtained illegal money.

The LHC bench said an observation of the trial court that the petitioner “legally used 363kg ephedrine, whereas the prosecution proved the misuse of the remaining 137kg” came due to testimonies of two prosecution witnesses, which was in conflict with the prosecution’s case and required serious consideration.

It said the trial court convicted the petitioner of illegally possessing ephedrine although the same was not recovered from his possession.

Moreover, there was no allegation of illegal possession of ephedrine against the petitioner; rather he was accused of selling out the ephedrine to drug peddlers and the trial court, in this regard, had observed that no iota of evidence had been brought on record by the prosecution.

“... The accused could complain of prejudice because he was not told in the charge that he kept in possession for a long time 137kg ephedrine, which is illegal,” the bench observed, referring to the trial court’s finding that the unused ephedrine remained in illegal possession of the accused and with the passage of time the possession of the same became illegal.

“We are of the opinion that the petitioner has successfully made out a case of suspension of the sentence,” the judges said in their six-page verdict.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2019