ISLAMABAD: An accountability court on Friday suspended an outstanding arrest warrant against PML-N’s Ishaq Dar, paving the way for the former finance minister’s return from London, where he has been living in ‘self-exile’ for the past five years or so.

Accountability Court Judge Mohammad Bashir issued a suspension order for a perpetual warrant of arrest against Mr Dar, which was issued on Dec 11, 2017, after Mr Dar absconded from an assets-beyond-means case. The warrants were suspended until Oct 7, giving the senator-elect a fortnight to surrender to the law.

Mr Dar must now appear before the court to seek cancellation of his warrant. The accountability judge, however, also has the power to recall the warrant. If the judge exercises this power, Mr Dar will no longer need to seek bail but will be required to join trial proceedings and mark his attendance on every date of hearing until the court exempts him from personal appearance.

The court’s decision has given credence to speculation that Mr Dar is returning to the country to take over as finance minister from the beleaguered Miftah Ismail. The change of command will come at a time when the country faces one of its worst economic crises, worsened by an unprecedented devaluation of the currency.

PML-N’s senator-elect likely to take charge of finance ministry; Miftah’s tenure ends on Oct 18

According to political observers, the timing of the court’s decision is significant as the six-month constitutional tenure of the incumbent finance minister ends on Oct 18. Since Mr Ismail is not an elected member of parliament, he cannot hold office as a federal minister beyond that date.

Mr Dar, who had secured a seat in the March 2018 Senate election while sitting in London, has yet to take oath as a member of the upper house of parliament. Earlier this year, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani had rejected a request to allow him to take the oath via video link.

During the hearing at the accountability court on Friday, Mr Dar’s counsel, Misbahul Hassan Qazi, argued that his client now intended to join the trial and surrender before the court. Turning down his request to withdraw the arrest warrant, the judge suspended it instead, saying that the court might reconsider once Mr Dar makes good on his promise.

The court subsequently restrained the police from arresting Mr Dar upon his return to Pakistan. Soon after the development, Geo News quoted Mr Dar as stating that he was planning to return next week.

Earlier this week, Mr Dar’s counsel Salman Aslam Butt had withdrawn an appeal from the Supreme Court against the declaration of Mr Dar as a proclaimed offender.

Headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, a two-judge bench had allowed the request after his counsel explained that Mr Dar intended to avail other remedies. Soon after the withdrawal of the application from the apex court, another counsel, Qazi Misbah, approached the accountability court with a request for withdrawal of the arrest warrants it had issued against Mr Dar.

Absconding from the law

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had, on July 28, 2017, disqualified then prime minister Nawaz Sharif for not disclosing an undrawn salary from his son’s company and constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) headed by then additional director general of the Federal Investigation Agency, Wajid Zia, to probe the assets of the Sharif family and Mr Dar.

The JIT had prepared four references — three against the Sharif family and one against Mr Dar — and filed them in the accountability court the same year.

Wajid Zia, the star prosecution witness, had testified before the accountability court in April 2019 that Mr Dar’s assets had grown manifold from 1982-83 to 2008. He said the former finance minister had owned assets worth Rs9.1 million in 1982-83, which increased exponentially within a few years to reach Rs831.6m in 2008.

The prosecution concluded that Mr Dar possessed assets which were disproportionate to and beyond his known sources of income.

As the former finance minister had not appeared before the court since 2017, he was declared a proclaimed offender and his bank accounts and other properties were attached. NAB seized all his movable and immovable assets, including a house in Gulberg III, Lahore; three plots in the Al-Falah Housing Society, Lahore; six acres of land in Islamabad, a two-kanal plot in the Parliamentarians’ Enclave, Islamabad; a plot in the Senate Cooperative Housing Society, Islamabad; another plot measuring two kanals and nine marlas in Islamabad, as well as six vehicles.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2022

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