• Ex-PM ordered to appear in court by 10th
• Nawaz to face absconsion proceedings in case of non-compliance: IHC
• PML-N supremo’s lawyers mull response to court direction amid his unlikely return
• Maryam asks PM to take action against his aide over his assets revelations
ISLAMABAD/LONDON: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday directed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to appear before the court and surrender to the authorities by September 10 or face legal proceedings for absconsion.
A division bench of the high court comprising Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Aamer Farooq also directed the deputy attorney general to verify the medical condition of Mr Sharif through the Pakistani High Commission in London.
The bench issued the directives during the hearing of appeals filed by Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar against conviction in National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references.
Appearing before the bench, Khawaja Haris Ahmed, the counsel for Mr Sharif, contended that the high court had suspended the sentence awarded to the appellant and granted bail for a period of eight weeks with the observation that if it was to be extended the same should be done by the Punjab government under Section 401(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
It was submitted that the provincial government, vide its decision dated Feb 27, 2020, did not extend the suspension of sentence of the appellant and as such the suspension and bail of the appellant lapsed. However, the counsel argued that the appellant’s health did not allow him to travel to Pakistan and appear before the court.
He apprised the court that the appellant went abroad after filing a writ petition before the Lahore High Court, which was still pending, while an undertaking was also tendered by the brother of the appellant before the LHC that in terms of the undertaking if the appellant had to stay abroad for more than four weeks, the medical condition would be determined by a representative of the High Commission of Pakistan in the United Kingdom.
When the counsel was asked if the appellant was hospitalised, he replied in the negative.
Opposing the request for exemption from court appearance, NAB Additional Prosecutor General Jahanzeb Khan Bharwana argued that the appellant was not on bail and, therefore, he should be declared an absconder.
When confronted, the counsel admitted that since the appeal had been admitted for regular hearing, it was to be decided on merit even if the appellant was declared an absconder.
In response to the query if the government had made any effort to verify the appellant’s medical condition in terms of the undertaking filed before the LHC, Deputy Attorney General Arshad Mehmood Kiyani asked for more time to obtain instructions from relevant quarters.
The bench recalled, “This court vide judgment dated October 29, 2019, had suspended the judgment handed down by the Accountability Court Islamabad, dated December 24, 2018 in NAB reference related to Al-Azizia Steel Mills and granted bail to the appellant for a period of eight weeks.”
Later, the Punjab government turned down the appellant’s request for extension of the suspension of sentence in view of his indisposition and hence the suspension and bail of Mr Sharif lapsed on February 27, 2020.
The court observed, “Admittedly, the appellant is not on bail and is also not present in the court but has made an application for exemption from appearance due to medical reasons. It is not out of place to observe that the appellant did not inform this court when he proceeded abroad or his name of 2019 was removed from the Exit Control List (ECL).”
The bench noted that the order passed by the LHC by removing appellant’s name from the ECL or permitting him to travel abroad had no bearing on the suspension order, as the appeal was being heard by the Islamabad High Court. “In the above backdrop and the interest of justice, we deem appropriate that an opportunity be granted to the appellant to appear before the court and surrender to the authorities before the next date of hearing failing which proceedings would be initiated against him in accordance with law including but not limited to the provisions of National Accountability Bureau Ordinance, 1999,” the court order stated.
The court later adjourned the hearing till September 10.
In a media talk, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz claimed her party leaders remained incarcerated and were still facing cases in courts, but the law should be equal for all citizens, may it be Nawaz Sharif, herself, judges or Special Assistant to Prime Minister Asim Saleem Bajwa.
She asked PM Imran Khan to take appropriate action over the revelations about Mr Bajwa’s assets.
The opposition party leader wondered how the judge who had convicted her father was later shown the door, but his decisions remained intact. Criticising the government performance, she said: “I knew that Imran Khan is not competent to run the government but I was not expecting him to bring the country on the verge of collapse within two years of his government.”
Return unlikely as lawyers mull response
Sources close to the PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif suggest that although he is keen to return, it is highly unlikely that he will go back to Pakistan before his treatment is complete in London.
However, his legal team is deliberating on the IHC bench’s direction and is expected to announce a strategy and response today (Wednesday).
Nawaz has been in the UK since November 2019, after getting bail from the court on medical grounds and securing permission from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government. His doctors said he is suffering from complicated cardiac disease and an immune system disorder that resulted in a dangerously low platelet count. Last week, a medical report submitted to the LHC by his legal team said doctors have advised him against travel due to the coronavirus outbreak as he is suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and diseases of the kidney and heart. The report stated that as a heart patient, he is vulnerable to contracting Covid-19.
His lawyers contend that his treatment that was paused due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK would resume soon. Prior to the pandemic, Nawaz had been visiting St Guys’ and St Thomas Hospital as well as Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital for check-ups, which would help doctors determine next steps in his treatment.
The source added: “Expecting him [Nawaz] to appear in person after he secured bail on medical grounds is unfair. Several allowances were made for Pervez Musharraf, who had the same objections and even expressed mistrust of the tribunal. In his [Nawaz’s] case, the accountability court trial falls squarely in the realm of misconduct. In this situation, bail should be a non-issue. The very verdict should be set aside.”
The PML-N leadership has long alleged that now-dismissed judge Arshad Malik was “blackmailed” into passing a verdict against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference. In July, the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued a notification for the dismissal of district and sessions judge Malik on charges of misconduct after an inquiry officer found him guilty.
The opposition party maintains that judge Malik’s dismissal “proves the innocence” of party’s supremo.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2020