• Punjab caretakers ‘suspend’ sentence in Al-Azizia reference
• IHC extends protective bail till tomorrow, giving NAB one day to decide on appeals
• Accountability court revokes warrants for PML-N leader in Toshakhana case
ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday secured an extension in his protective bail from the Islamabad High Court in the Al-Azizia and Avenfield Apartments references till Thursday, as the Punjab caretaker government in a contested move suspended the former prime minister’s sentence in the Al-Azizia case under Section 401 of Code of Criminal Procedure.
In a similar development, accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir revoked the perpetual arrest warrants of Mr Sharif after his surrender in the Toshakhana case and also granted him bail against surety bonds of Rs1 million. Further hearing in this matter has been adjourned till Nov 20.
During his appearance at the high court after a gap of four years, the PML-N leader was accompanied by party president and younger brother Shehbaz Sharif, Ishaq Dar, Pervaiz Rashid, as well as other stalwarts of the former ruling party.
In a sky-blue dress with a blue scarf wrapped around his neck, Mr Sharif perched on a chair surrounded by Shehbaz Sharif and Mr Rashid and listened carefully to the arguments put forward by his legal team and the prosecution.
During the hearing, the IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb wondered why the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had taken an apparent U-turn and gave the watchdog one day to decide on the appeals of the former premier.
Before his arrival on Oct 21, the PML-N had sought protective bail from the high court which was not opposed by NAB. On Tuesday, NAB lawyers maintained the same stance. During previous hearings, NAB Special Prosecutor Afzal Qureshi and Deputy Prosecutor General Nadeem Tariq Sunghera refused to contest the bail plea, whereas on Tuesday, NAB Prosecutor General Ihtisham Qadir Shah did not object to the protective bail either. He informed the bench the NAB was not interested in arresting the former premier. This made Justice Aurangzeb wonder about the change in NAB’s stance in a mere five years.
He recollected that being a member of the division bench that heard arguments of the then special prosecutors and the additional prosecutor general, who vehemently opposed Mr Sharif’s petition seeking bail in the Avenfield reference on medical grounds. But this time, they instantly consented to his bail plea.
He pointed out that in a number of cases, the prosecution did not appear despite repeated notices, but in this particular case, the prosecutor was present when the protective bail plea was heard for the very first time. He remarked that in 2018, NAB made all-out efforts to establish that Mr Sharif was a corrupt leader, but apparently now it “has changed its stance”.
The prosecutor general said the bureau would not arrest the PML-N leader if protective bail was not confirmed.
‘No evidence against Sharif’
Former law minister Azam Nazir Tarar argued that the IHC had already examined the evidence in the Avenfield Apartment reference.
He said that the court had already “virtually absolved Mr Sharif from the charges” and the appellant had the constitutional right that his case be heard on merit. He opposed the withdrawal of appeals, saying that since Mr Sharif was a public figure, he was required to be acquitted on merit after proper hearings.
The lawyer requested the court to restore the appeals which were dismissed over his non-appearance, saying that the ex-PM went abroad with the approval of the judiciary and was complying with the directions of the Lahore High Court, including submission of medical reports to the authorities concerned. The bench extended the protective bail till Thursday and adjourned the hearing.
On the other hand, Punjab Caretaker Minister for Information Amir Mir confirmed to Dawn that the caretaker cabinet suspended the sentence of Mr Sharif in exercise of its powers under section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. He said the former government of Usman Buzdar had also exercised the same powers in October 2019 to initially grant bail to Mr Sharif.
Later, the Buzdar government dismissed the application for a bail extension. A government handout, however, claimed that the sentence was not suspended but only the case had been referred to the court. “Now, the court is entrusted with the decision of granting or denying bail. The case has been forwarded to the court under Section 401,” the handout added.
Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2023