The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday set aside an order of Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ) Mohammad Adnan and issued a notice to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking his response in a defamation case against Khawaja Asif over the PML-N leader's allegations about misappropriation of funds of Shaukat Khanam Memorial Trust (SKMT).
The premier had filed the defamation suit against Asif in 2012 for recovery of Rs10 billion as the latter had at a press conference levelled allegations about misappropriation of and money laundering through the SKMT funds.
In Dec 2021, the prime minister, while recording his statement before the digitally connected court, which was presided over by the ADSJ, said he was the biggest individual donor of the SKMT from 1991 to 2009 and the investments, against which allegations had been made, were fully recovered by the SKMT without any loss.
The legality of the statement was challenged by the PML-N leader in the IHC on Monday, arguing that the ADSJ had unilaterally closed his right of the prime minister's cross-examination. The petition stated that on December 17 of 2021, before the commencement of proceedings, the court was informed that Asif’s counsel was unable to appear because of sickness, but the ADSJ recorded the premier's statement in the absence of the defence counsel. The petition had requested the IHC to set aside the ADSJ’s order.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah presided over the hearing for the petition today. He questioned that since when the case was pending.
Asif's counsel replied that the defamation suit was filed in 2012 and questions were formulated in 2021, to which the judge asked who was responsible for the delay when the court had ordered that defamation cases be disposed of quickly.
"Are you saying that the delay was caused by Imran Khan? The case is being delayed since 2012. It should have been decided in two months," the judge said.
The counsel responded that both parties had taken adjournments. He said the prime minister had not pursued the case initially and only started doing so later. He added that Asif was in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau for six months — from December 2020 to June 2021 — when the issues were framed.
He added that during that time Asif was unable to consult his lawyer and the ADSJ decided to proceed ex parte on account of the counsel's absence.
"The sessions judge's order is illegal, unsustainable and based on not reading the record," Asif's counsel said, adding that the ADSJ had acted without the authority of the law.
The court was requested to declare the lower court's order illegal and suspend it.
Subsequently, the IHC stayed the ADSJ from conducting proceedings until the next hearing and issued a notice to the premier. The hearing was adjourned to Jan 12.