ISLAMABAD: An accountability court, hearing corruption references against the Sharif family and former finance minister Ishaq Dar, has requested the Supreme Court to extend time period for the ongoing trials, arguing that they cannot be concluded within the six-month time set by the apex court.
Apart from the request for extension in time of trial, another application – pertaining to extension in the tenure of accountability court Judge Muhammad Bashir – has been fixed for hearing before the Supreme Court on Wednesday (today). The judge’s tenure is going to end on March 12.
On receiving the applications, the SC registrar has placed the matter seeking ‘grant of time in Panama cases’ before the special bench, comprising Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan on March 6 (today). The bench will take up the applications at 12:30pm.
A source privy to the development said Judge Bashir had sent a letter to the apex court which had directed the trial court to decide within six months the references against former PM Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, son in-law Captain (retd) Safdar, sons Hasan and Husain Nawaz as well as Dar.
It is now up to the SC bench to extend time or issue notices to parties concerned after taking into consideration the trial’s stage and the reports sent to the monitoring judge, Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
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The references – pertaining to Flagship Investment Limited and 15 other companies; Al-Azizia Company Limited, Jeddah; Hill Metals Establishment, Jeddah; and Avenfield Apartments, London – were prepared in the light of the July 28, 2017 judgment of the apex court in the Panamagate case.
The top court had given the anti-graft watchdog until September 8, 2017 to file the references before the accountability court. In its July 28 judgment, the apex court had directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file references against Sharif, his sons, daughter, son-in-law and Dar within six weeks while directing the court to conclude the same within six months.
However, the trial court is highly likely to miss the six-month deadline as NAB has filed supplementary references against the accused when the court had almost completed recording testimony of the prosecution witnesses in the interim references.
Roughly, the trial court has examined more than 50 prosecution witnesses in the four references but the NAB’s supplementary references include over 40 new witnesses and three new accused – the incumbent NBP president and CEO Saeed Ahmed as well as Naeem Mahmood and one of Dar’s employees since 1991 Syed Mansoor Raza Rizvi – in the supplementary reference against Dar.
In order to meet the deadline, Judge Bashir occasionally conducted marathon hearings lasting after 10pm as the monitoring judge of the Supreme Court is directly supervising the proceedings.
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When the issue of extension in time for trial and the judge’s service tenure surfaced a few days ago, the Islamabad High Court sent a letter to the law ministry recommending extension in the judge’s service, but it has yet to be responded to.
In addition to the prosecution witnesses, the court has to record testimony of Sharifs, Dar, Ahmed, Mahmood, Rizvi and any other witness the defence team may produce in the references.
At the moment, Sharif, Maryam and Safdar are facing the trial while Hassan and Hussain have been declared proclaimed offenders as they did not join the trial proceedings.
The accountability court would continue recording statement of new witnesses and the evidence produced by them in the Flagship and Al-Azizia references on Wednesday.
The head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which probed the Panama Papers scandal, Wajid Zia, would appear before the court to record his statement in the Avenfield reference on March 8.