ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday made his first appearance before an Islamabad accountability court hearing graft references against him and his children. The reference was filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on the orders of the Supreme Court.
Having just returning to Pakistan following weeks abroad, Sharif did not enter a plea on the three references during his appearance before Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir. He will be formally charged on October 2, the next date of hearing in the case.
Sharif was disqualified from holding public office by the Supreme Court on July 28 in the Panama Papers case judgment due to concealed assets. The apex court also ordered the country’s top graft buster to file corruption references against Sharif, his two sons Hussain and Hasan, daughter Maryam, and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar.
None of the Sharif’s children were present in court. The judge issue bailable warrants for the arrest of Sharif’s children and Safdar for failure to attend the previous hearing on September 19.
The court, however, reserved its order on an application seeking exemption for the former prime minister from appearing in the court. The judge then adjourned proceedings until October 2.
The proceedings on Tuesday were marred by mismanaged security arrangements at the court. “Mismanagement of security is observed and for that reason further proceedings could not be conducted in the case,” Judge Bashir stated in the written order, available with The Express Tribune.
There was stepped-up security outside the court in the Federal Judicial Complex. Because of strict arrangements, several reporters, litigants, court officials, ministers, and even the NAB prosecution team and the court’s own reader were not allowed to enter the premises.
In another incident, some security officials beat up a reporter inside the courtroom before he was thrown out. NAB’s Additional Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi told the judge that the police stopped NAB officials and “their conduct was unbecoming”. The judge told him to file a formal complaint so that he may proceed further.
At the outset of the hearing, the court noted that accused Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz had not appeared in the court despite receiving summons at the “Avenfield House Park Lane (Mayfair Apartments) London on 23rd September, 2017” through the Pakistan High Commission in London.
“Warrants of arrest … shall be issued against them,” the court stated. In the warrants, the court directed NAB to arrest the accused persons and produce them before the court. “Herein fail not,” the order added.
The order stated further that if the accused “give bail in the sum of Rs1 million each with one surety of the same amount to attend the next hearing and to continue to attend until otherwise directed by the court”, he may be released. Summons for Maryam Nawaz and Safdar were earlier received.
Also during the proceedings, copies of the references and other documents were handed over to Sharif, as Khawaja Haris advocate presented power of attorney as Sharif’s counsel. He filed an application for exemption for Sharif on grounds of security threats.
He also informed the court that Sharif should be given exemption as he has to travel abroad to be with his ailing wife. Haris assured the court that Sharif would continue to appear before the court on every hearing.
The NAB prosecutors opposed the request, saying only one out of the five accused appeared and if Sharif was allowed to leave, the trial would be affected. The court said that the application “will be disposed of on the coming date [of hearing].”
The references pertain to the Avenfield Flats, Flagship Investment Limited and 15 other companies as well as Al-Azizia Company Limited and Hill Metals Establishment. The SC had given the accountability court six months to decide the matter.
Sharif, who did not utter a single word during the hearing, later told a press conference at the Punjab House he would face cases against him and come out as victorious, and insisted that he was set on ensuring that his party scored a landslide win in the general elections next year.
Reading from a written statement at his much-hyped press conference, the former prime minister said he had been denied a fair trial in the Panama Papers case but was still seen as innocent in the court of public opinion.
Sharif told reporters that he had implemented the Supreme Court verdict of July 28, but had not accepted it. However, he hinted that he would not resort to any agitation in the country.
“I would not let the difficulties face by my family and I become the difficulties of Pakistan. I have taken an oath to protect Pakistan and make it prosper,” he told the press conference before flying out to Lahore.
Contrary to journalists’ expectations that Sharif would announce his future course of action, his press conference turned out to be a mere repetition of his previous critical statements against the judiciary and the security establishment. He also did not take questions from the journalists.
At the outset of the press conference, journalists complained to Sharif about the manhandling of one of their colleagues by his security staff at the accountability court in the morning.
The former PM pacified the media, saying he assigned his staff to look into the issue why this happened and make sure such incidents did not recur in the future. “You know I am media friendly — I am personally hurt by this incident,” he said.
About his trial in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references against him, Sharif minced no words as he took on the judiciary. He referred to Article 10-A of the Constitution, which provides for the right to fair trial and due process.
“The same court tried me. The same court formed a JIT based on a suspicious WhatsApp call despite having no evidence against me. The same court ordered that NAB initiate references against me and my family members without following due process. The same court became the monitor of the accountability court. Is it a fair trial under Article 10-A,” he asked.
He recalled that cases were framed against him during military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s regime. “I passed through that process of accountability – I am passing through this process of accountability. The only difference is that that was dictatorship and this is democracy,” he said.
“The difference is that even then I had the right to appeal, but not now. I don’t have this right,” said Sharif, whose review petition on the Panama Papers case had been rejected by the Supreme Court. “It was all about an iqama (UAE work permit) in the garb of Panama.”
And in a defiant tone, he said he was “here to stay” and brave the odds. He said rumours were spread against him when he was in London to be with his ailing wife, but insisted that he would not run away from the judicial process.
“I had to go to London in emergency because of my wife’s ailment. I never thought I would be out of country unnecessarily even for a day. Stories were fabricated about my absence from the country, but it is not our way to run from judicial and legal process.”
Taking a jibe at the joint investigation team (JIT) which investigated into the Sharif family’s offshore properties, the former PM sarcastically termed its members ‘diamonds’ and cast doubts about their credibility.
“My children and I appeared before these ‘diamonds’ who themselves were facing inquiries by their departments – but these ‘diamonds’ have become holy cows now that even the Supreme Court cannot proceed against.”
He likened the Panamagate case trial to Maulvi Tameezuddin case which saw the creation of notorious “doctrine of necessity” by then-chief justice Muhammad Munir in 1954, which gave legal cover to extrajudicial steps taken by then-governor general Ghulam Muhammad.
“We implemented the Supreme Court’s decision, but have we accepted it? No. Millions of people assembled on GT Road for four consecutive days to reject this decision. And then the people of NA-120 simply stamped the public verdict delivered on GT Road,” he said.
“God willing, these decisions would keep coming – and then a grand decision would come in 2018 elections that would wipe out all those decisions – from Maulvi Tameezuddin to Nawaz Sharif.”
Nisar, Junaid in attendance
Conspicuous by their presence at Sharif’s press conference were former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and his maternal grandson Junaid Safdar. When Sharif left the press conference hall, all the senior PML-N leaders followed him except for Nisar, who was immediately surrounded by media.
Nisar greeted the journalists with a smiling face but barely spoke on political issues, saying there was no discussion between him and Sharif on their differences during their meeting the previous day at the Punjab House.