The Lahore High Court (LHC) directed the deputy registrar (judicial) on Monday to return PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz’s passport, which she had surrendered to the court in 2019 for getting bail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills (CSM) case.

The development comes days after the Islamabad High Court set aside Maryam’s conviction in the Avenfield case.

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A full bench, headed by LHC Chief Justice (CJ) Muhammad Ameer Bhatti and comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, issued the directives today while hearing Maryam’s plea for the recovery of her passport.

At the previous hearing, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had told the high court that it did not require the PML-N leader’s passport.

In its parawise comments, the anti-graft watchdog did not deny the contention made in her petition regarding the Supreme Court judgments wherein it had been held that registration of criminal cases could not deprive a citizen of exercising constitutional rights.

The hearing

During today’s hearing, the deputy attorney general and the NAB lawyer told the court that neither the federal government nor the accountability watchdog had any objections to returning Maryam’s passport.

The hearing began with Maryam’s counsel, Amjad Pervaiz, apologising to the court for his absence at the previous hearing and presenting his arguments.

During the course of proceedings, the LHC CJ asked him whether this was the second plea the PML-N leader had filed for the recovery of her passport. Pervaiz confirmed to the court that this was the second plea, saying that proceedings on the first were also under way.

However, he stated that the stance in both the pleas was different and told the court he wanted to withdraw the first plea. In addition, he also presented a rough outline of events pertaining to the case as he built his argument.

“Maryam was arrested in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case. She was sent on physical remand and later remanded in judicial custody, after which the LHC granted her bail on merit,” he contented.

The LHC, he said, asked Maryam to submit her passport and Rs70 million to the registrar’s office which the PML-N leader had abided by. But, the accountability watchdog had failed to submit a relevant report to the court despite the passage of four years.

The lawyer argued that Maryam was being deprived of her fundamental rights. He further contended that prolonging a case was akin to “misusing the law”.

“Courts even dismiss cases over prolonged delays,” he remarked.

Referring to the relief provided to Maryam in the Avenfield case, he said his client’s conviction had been suspended on merit and she had been acquitted. The lawyer called on the court to order the return of Maryam’s passport.

At that, the LHC CJ asked about the federal government’s stance on the matter.

“We don’t have any objection to returning the passport,” the deputy attorney general replied.

The LHC CJ noted that the federal government had also filed a plea against Maryam’s bail. He also enquired about the “position of investigation” in the case.

The NAB’s lawyer told the court that the accountability watchdog was looking into the matter in light of the new law. “We are seeing how this case will proceed under the new [NAB] law. The investigation wing has to decide whether the case will continue or be disposed of,” he said.

The LHC CJ then asked him about the “instructions” he had been given regarding returning of the passport.

“We have no objections to returning the passport,” the lawyer replied.

At that, the court directed the deputy registrar (judicial) to return Maryam’s passport.

Shortly after the hearing, Maryam tweeted saying that her passport had been returned. She also said that her passport was seized for three years even though there was never a case to begin with.

The case

The NAB had initiated proceedings against Maryam in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills Case on allegations of her being involved in money laundering through investments of variable heavy amounts, being the main shareholder of the CSM. It was alleged that she was involved in money laundering with the help of some foreigners during the period of 1992-93, when PMI-N supremo and her father, Nawaz Sharif, was the prime minister.

Maryam and her cousin Yousuf Abbas were arrested by the NAB on August 8, 2019 in the CSM case. Later, on September 25 that year, they were sent to jail on judicial remand by an accountability court in Lahore.

On November 4, 2019, an LHC bench had granted her post-arrest bail but directed her to surrender her passport as the NAB feared she could flee the country.

Eventually, Maryam had approached the court for the recovery of her passport.

In her plea, Maryam contended in her plea that it was a known fact that her father was allowed to go abroad on account of his critical health condition.

She claimed that her father had not regained his health so far as he was still undergoing the diagnosis process as per a medical report filed in the court, duly attested by the Pakistan High Commission in London.

She submitted that despite the absence of any charge sheet against her or trial, she had not been able to exercise her fundamental rights for about four years on account of surrendering her passport in compliance with the court order.

The PML-N leader pleaded that she was in dire need to go abroad to attend to and inquire after her ailing father. She asked the court to direct the deputy registrar (judicial) to return her passport in the interest of justice.

A full bench was constituted last month to hear the case after several judges had recused themselves from hearing Maryam’s plea.

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