Nawaz challenges warrants in Toshakhana case

Published August 16, 2020
The accountability court-III of Islamabad had issued non-bailable warrants for Sharif for not attending the court’s proceeding in the reference and had also initiated the process to declare him a proclaimed offender. — AFP/File
The accountability court-III of Islamabad had issued non-bailable warrants for Sharif for not attending the court’s proceeding in the reference and had also initiated the process to declare him a proclaimed offender. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister and supreme leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Mohammad Nawaz Sharif on Saturday challenged his non-bailable arrest warrants issued by an accountability court and requested the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to allow him to join the Toshakhana reference proceedings through his pleader.

A two-member division bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Aamer Farooq will hear the petition on August 17.

Mr Sharif, who is currently in the UK, is facing another case related to securing a luxury vehicle from Toshakhana.

According to the reference, Mr Sharif as well as former president and co-chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari had obtained cars from Toshakhana by paying only 15 per cent of the price of the luxury vehicles. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) alleged that ex-PM Yousaf Raza Gillani facilitated the allotment of the vehicles to Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif by ‘dishonestly’ and ‘illegally’ relaxing the procedure for the acceptance and disposal of gifts vide a cabinet division memorandum of 2007.

The accountability court-III of Islamabad had issued non-bailable warrants for Mr Sharif for not attending the court’s proceeding in the reference and had also initiated the process to declare him a proclaimed offender.

Seeks IHC permission to join proceedings through pleader

In his petition filed before the IHC through Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon, Mr Sharif cited NAB chairman, judge of the accountability court-III and the investigation officer in Toshakhana reference as respondents.

The petitioner stated that Mr Sharif “is a renowned and veteran politician of Pakistan … [he] has been the elected prime minister of Pakistan thrice and the leader of the opposition from 1993-1996. He has also been the chief minister and the finance minister for the province of Punjab.”

The petition quoted the observations passed by the apex court in NAB’s related cases. It said: “The former Chief Justice of Pakistan was constrained to observe against NAB that ‘We, as a relevant organ of the state, also feel that the growing perception that the process of accountability being pursued in the country at present is lopsided and is a part of political engineering is a dangerous perception and some remedial steps need to be taken urgently so that the process does not lose credibility.”

Likewise, the petition added, the incumbent CJP also observed that NAB was an ‘exploitive agency’ and ‘doing discriminatory and selective accountability’. It said such comments from the highest court placed a heavy duty on the NAB to perform its functions with a reasonable duty to care.

The petition also referred to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report of August 6, 2020 and termed it “an eye opener”, as it was stressed by the HRW that Pakistan must stop using NAB against government critics. This global human rights body while highlighting all the references, summarised some of NAB’s worst abuses in recent years, one is the arrest of the Editor in Chief of Jang and Geo TV network in a 34-year-old case, in which the present petitioner was also arrayed as accused.

According to the petition, the Toshakhana reference was an offshoot of the fake accounts case in which the joint investigation team did not establish anything against ex-PM Sharif. Yet the name of PML-N’s supreme leader surfaced “surprisingly” in the reference, it argued, adding that the accountability judge initially summoned him and later issued his non-bailable arrest warrants.

The petition argued that the IHC granted Mr Sharif bail on October 29, 2019 on medical grounds, yet the accountability court judge initiated the process to declare the leader of the main opposition party a proclaimed offender under Section 87 of the criminal procedure code (CrPC). It recalled that Mr Sharif did not abscond but went to the UK on November 19, 2019 for medical treatment “with the approval of the government of Pakistan”.

It said: “Knowingly that the petitioner is not in Pakistan and at the time of filing reference and summoning the accused, the petitioner is out of the country for medical reasons after fulfilling all legal formalities, the respondents were misled by the investigation officer.”

“The bailable, non-bailable arrest warrant and further proclamation under Section 87 of CrPC is the impugned interference in the life and liberty of the petitioner and he has been deprived from his constitutional and fundamental rights, because the petitioner did not conceal himself from any process of the law. The petitioner always holds the rule of law supreme in his life,” the petition stated.

Subsequently, it added, “The proclamation order dated June 30, 2020 in respect of the petitioner issued by respondent No. 2 [accountability judge] is of the alleged irregularity; hence, on the face of it all the impugned orders seems to be issued due to personal vendetta, victimisation, mala fides, with malice aforethought of the respondent No. 1 [NAB’s chairman].”

The petition requested the high court to declare the arrest warrants illegal and as the ex-premier himself desired to join the proceeding of the accountability court, he be allowed to do this through the pleader.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2020

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