–IHC bench imposes Rs 10,000 fine on anti-graft watchdog after prosecutors seek more time to present concluding arguments in Sharifs’ appeal against conviction
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday imposed a fine on the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after the anti-graft watchdog failed to present its arguments in petitions filed by the Sharif family seeking the suspension of the Avenfield reference verdict.
The fine was imposed on NAB after the bureau sought adjournment in petitions seeking suspension of sentences awarded to imprisoned former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son in-law Captain (r) Safdar by the accountability court.
The IHC division bench, comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, expressed displeasure at NAB before slamming a Rs10,000 fine and directing the prosecutors to conclude arguments in the case on Monday. The high court had earlier turned down NAB’s application seeking adjournment on August 15 and heard arguments from the petitioners’ counsels with directions to NAB to conclude arguments on Thursday.
During the hearing, Justice Aurangzeb inquired about the plausibility of seeking an adjournment when the other side had already presented its arguments.
“We have immense respect for you but these are crooked instructions,” he said while addressing NAB’s Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi.
When Justice Aurangzeb asked who directed Abbasi to seek adjournment, he replied that the instructions came from the NAB prosecutor general. “Did you inform him that the instructions were unfair and against norms of propriety? How can NAB make such a request,” asked Justice Aurangzeb, adding that the request reflected badly upon the corruption watchdog.
The bench observed that it was difficult to comprehend on what grounds NAB sought adjournment keeping in view the petitioners’ counsel had already presented arguments in the matter and urged Muzaffar to take a position. “This must be very embarrassing for you,” the bench remarked.
Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif’s counsel Khawaja Haris said his client was behind bars and lamented that NAB has sought an adjournment despite the suspension petitions being filed a month after filing and heard for the last many days. Justice Aurangzeb remarked that NAB prosecutors looked uncomfortable while Justice Minallah added the court had to take into consideration that the applicants were incarcerated. “Discomfort on their [NAB prosecutors] faces is visible,” Justice Aurangzeb remarked.
Reiterating that he was directed to not present arguments, Abbasi sought another opportunity. Justice Minallah said the bench never denied opportunities but the request needed to be reasonable.
Upon the court’s inquiry if prosecutors could conclude arguments on August 20 (Monday), Abbasi said he would need instructions from the bureau.
Annoyed by the reply, Justice Aurangzeb remarked that Abbasi’s instructions seemed clear. “Since you are not presenting arguments, we are going to penalise the bureau. NAB prosecutor Haider Ali Khan intervened to say that the anti-graft body will conclude arguments on Monday.
“I anticipate NAB to come up with another excuse on August 20,” jibed Haris. Maryam Nawaz and Captain (r) Safdar’s lawyer Amjad Pervaiz said that such delay tactics were known to be applied by private parties but “we do not understand why NAB is resorting to such strategies”.
Justice Aurangzeb’s repeatedly inquired of grounds to grant adjournment. “I have never witnessed such a request in my 18-year-long career. This is completely unprecedented.”
Abbasi again asked the bench to decide on the application seeking adjournment and requested for more time to prepare arguments. When he attempted to delay proceedings by saying that the petitioners did not correctly list respondents in the petition, Justice Aurangzeb scathingly reminded him that the petitioners had already made required amendments.
Expressing his reservations over the prosecution team, Haris said his client had suffered since the prosecutors deviated from their commitment to conclude all corruption references together before the trial court.
Justice Minallah said “you know that all the benches of IHC went out of their way to hear this matter” and sometimes suspension petitions are taken up for hearing after a long delay. “I got upset because of their [NAB] conduct,” Haris replied.
While dictating the order, Justice Minallah imposed a fine of Rs10,000 on NAB and directed NAB prosecutors to not only submit written arguments but also appear before the court on Monday and conclude arguments on the petitions.