- CJP rejects defence counsel’s request seeking replacement of accountability judge
- Assures Khawaja Haris that ‘court cannot even think of being unfair’
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted the accountability court six more weeks to conclude proceedings in the remaining references against the Sharif family and former finance minister Ishaq Dar.
During the hearing, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar said that he wanted all references to conclude as soon as possible, and ordered National Accountability Bureau to conclude its proceedings within six weeks.
NAB lawyer Akbar Tarar told the bench comprising the CJP and Justice Ijazul Ahsan that there were 18 witnesses in the Flagship Investments reference, out of which 14 had already recorded their statements in court. Two witnesses were yet to be cross-questioned, the prosecutor said.
In the Al Azizia reference, Tarar said that 20 witnesses had recorded their statements. He added that no proceedings had been held in the remaining references against the Sharifs since June 11.
The third case, Reference no. 21, is related to Dar, who has been declared an absconder, Tarar told the apex court.
Chief Justice Nisar pointed out that the SC had also summoned Dar in a case regarding his eligibility to hold a seat in the Senate, but he had failed to appear so far. He then asked NAB’s lawyer if a sentence can be passed in the absence of the accused.
The accountability court judge had sought four weeks to wrap up the cases, however, the CJP gave an extension of six weeks and observed that the deadline may be extended if the references are not concluded on time.
This is the fourth time the deadline for the cases has been extended since the trial started in September last year.
Initially, a deadline of six-months was given by the apex court to conclude the cases, however on Monday, the accountability court had requested the SC for an extension in the deadline.
As the hearing went underway on Tuesday, Khawaja Haris contended that the witnesses and evidence are similar in all three references against his client; thus a different judge should hear the remaining two references after giving his verdict in the Avenfield properties case.
Justice Ahsan, however, refuted Haris’ claim, saying that witnesses in the Flagship Investments and Al Azizia references were different and there was “no similarity between the two [remaining] references”.
“How can a judge who has been hearing and recording witnesses in each reference be changed?” he asked, adding that the court was not “inclined” toward Haris’ objections in the matter.
Chief Justice Nisar reiterated Justice Ahsan’s response, saying that Haris “could not raise objections”. He assured Haris that the apex court “could not even think of [being] unfair”.
“Do you know how much the Supreme Court is serving the nation?” Justice Nisar asked.
Nawaz’s counsel further argued that the Avenfield judgement will have an impact on the other references. However, the CJP disagreed saying, “The cases will proceed on merit and the court will write in its order that the trial will not be prejudiced.”
The bench was not convinced with the arguments of Khawaja Haris and noted that it would be difficult for a new judge to hear the case at this stage. Haris replied that it was unfair of the top court to rule in favour of the judge, to which the CJP replied that attributing unfairness to the SC was tantamount to not serving the country.
The CJP acknowledged that Haris works hard “in Serena Hotel till 3am” but reminded him that he [Justice Nisar] had not been able to rest for days either.
On Monday, Haris had urged the accountability court judge Bashir to recuse himself from the remaining cases, arguing that since the evidence in both the cases was similar, the verdict in Al Azizia reference could be the same.
Judge Bashir had agreed to refer the matter to Islamabad High Court. If the high court deems Haris’ arguments valid, the case could be transferred to another accountability court.
Earlier, following the Panama Papers case verdict against Nawaz, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had filed three references against the Sharif family.
On Friday, the accountability court sentenced Nawaz, daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (r) Safdar to jail in the Avenfield properties reference.
Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Maryam to seven years and Safdar to one year in prison in the Avenfield corruption reference. Fines of £8 million and £2 million were imposed on the father and daughter, respectively.
After the court’s verdict, the remaining cases pertain to the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment, and offshore companies including Flagship Investment Limited.