An Islamabad accountability court on Tuesday issued a bailable arrest warrant for former president and PPP co-chair Asif Ali Zardari in a case that accused him and former premiers Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gilani of receiving luxury vehicles and gifts from the Toshakhana.
The court also directed authorities to initiate the procedure to declare Sharif — whose arrest warrants were issued in an earlier hearing — as a proclaimed offender in the case, saying that the former prime minister was not taking part in court proceedings "on purpose".
During the proceedings, Zardari's lawyer Farooq Naek told the court his client had not appeared for the hearing because the former president is "of advanced age" and personally appearing could exposed him to the novel coronavirus. The judge remarked that Zardari would have to appear as it was a criminal case and denied his request for exemption.
Zardari's counsel further argued that issuing arrest warrants would have been appropriate if the former president had no representation in court. Naek said he had appeared on behalf of the PPP co-chairperson, assuring the court that Zardari would appear in a later hearing.
Naek also added that if Zardari appears in person, his supporters will gather at the court which will result in a crowd, putting others at the risk of contracting coronavirus.
The legal representative of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Sardar Muzaffar, said it was the administration's job to control a crowd. He pleaded that the court "should not extend any leniency and issue non-bailable arrest warrants".
Muzaffar also pointed out that Gilani had been exempted from court appearances and no one had appeared on his behalf. Gilani's exemption, he argued, should also be withdrawn.
Naek, while addressing the absence of Gilani, said the former prime minister had contracted Covid-19 and had gone into isolation. "Even I had isolated myself because I had come into contact with Gilani," Naek said, and offered to give a statement under oath on Gilani's behalf.
Accountability judge Asghar Ali adjourned the hearing until August 17.
According to the NAB reference, filed in March this year, Gilani had been accused of illegally allotting cars to PPP co-chairman Zardari and PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif.
Khawaja Anwar Majeed and Khawaja Abdul Ghani Majeed, owners of the Omni Group, were also nominated as accused in the reference.
The reference states that Zardari and Sharif obtained cars from Toshakhana by paying 15 per cent of the price of the cars. The bureau further alleged that Gilani facilitated Zardari and Nawaz in this regard. He dishonestly and illegally relaxed the procedure for the acceptance and disposal of gifts, issued by the government of Pakistan vide Cabinet Division’s Memorandum No.9/8/2004-TK dated June 25, 2007, which expressly stipulates that vehicles shall not be allowed to be purchased by the recipients and be given to the central pool of care of the Cabinet Division.
Reference further states that Zardari accepted and received the armoured vehicles as gift from the United Arab Emirates (BMW750 Li model 2005, Lexus Jeep model 2007) and from Libya (BMW 760 Li model 2008) in September-October 2008. It was obligated to immediately report and deposit the vehicles with Toshakhana of Cabinet Division but he neither reported the gifted vehicles nor despoiled the same.
The NAB reference alleges that Sharif did not hold any public office in 2008. However, from April to December 2008, without giving any application or request to then prime minister Gilani, dishonestly and illegally obtained relaxation for his benefits of the procedure for the vide Cabinet Division’s above said Memorandum which expressly stipulate that vehicles shall not be allowed to be purchased by the recipients and be given to the Central Pool of cars of the Cabinet Division.
“Nawaz Sharif knowingly and with dishonest intention obtained illegal favour in connivance with the then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani by obtaining the relaxation of said procedure for the acceptance and disposal of gifts,” reference states.