ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday summoned records relating to trial proceedings in the ARY Gold and Ursus Tractors references of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against former president Asif Ali Zardari.
The IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb took up the identical appeals filed by NAB against the acquittal of Mr Zardari in the two references.
At the outset of the proceedings, NAB’s additional prosecutor general Jahanzeb Bharwana informed the court that despite its earlier order of April 21, 2016, which had summoned the records from the accountability court, the registrar’s office had not obtained them yet.
“I have checked from the relevant branch of the IHC, but the records have yet to be procured,” he said,
Justice Minallah asked him to inform the court of the allegations and explain why NAB had challenged the acquittal.
Mr Bharwana replied that the case against Mr Zardari was registered by the Ehtesab Commission and after promulgation of the National Accountability Ordinance in 1999 it was transferred to the Ehtesab Bench of the accountability court.
He said that in 2007 the then government introduced the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and NAB withdrew the cases from the accountability courts. But in 2009 the Supreme Court declared the NRO as void ab initio and the cases were revived.
At the time, Mr Zardari was holding the office of president of Pakistan and was enjoying presidential immunity; therefore the accountability court proceeded against the other accused in the ARY and Ursus references and acquitted them. After Mr Zardari completed his term as president, NAB proceeded against him as well.
In 2011, the trial court acquitted former commerce secretary retired Brigadier Aslam Hayat Qureshi, then principal secretary to the president Salman Farooqi, ARY Gold company’s owner Haji Abdul Razzaq, Haji Abdul Rauf and Jan Mohammad but issued permanent arrest warrants for former federal finance secretary Javed Talat and director of Swiss company SGS Jens Schlegelmich in the ARY Gold reference.
In this reference, the late Benazir Bhutto was the main accused along with Mr Zardari but her name was quashed after her assassination on December 27, 2007.
According to the reference, then prime minister Bhutto, Mr Zardari, retired Brigadier Qureshi and Mr Farooqi allegedly allowed the owner of ARY Gold, Haji Abdul Razzaq, to import gold and silver without duties between 1995 and 1997, inflicting hefty loss to the national exchequer.
After the 2013 general elections, Mr Zardari was tried in these references and was acquitted in the subsequent year.
The Ursus Tractors reference pertained to alleged misappropriation in the purchase of 5,900 Russian and Polish tractors, at a cost of Rs150,000 each, for the Awami Tractor Scheme. Mr Zardari was one of the main accused along with Ms Bhutto; however, her name was later removed from the reference.
The court acquitted the co-accused in the case, Nawab Yousuf Talpur, a former agriculture minister who is currently a Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker.
The tractors purchase deal allegedly caused a loss of Rs268.3 million to the Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan and Rs1.67 billion to the State Bank of Pakistan.
The IHC bench directed the registrar’s office to fix the case for hearing after obtaining the records from the trial court.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2019