Just as the chief graft buster assumed charge on Friday, an accountability court in Islamabad reopened five references against former president Asif Ali Zardari and summoned him before the court on October 14.
National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigators informally briefed NAB Chairman Maj (retd) Chaudhry Qamar Zaman on the status of pending cases on Friday, according to an official. Zaman will be officially briefed on Saturday.
At the same time, the court has also summoned the bureau’s prosecutor Karim Khan Agha, apart from the former president, and stated in its notice that Zardari’s immunity to trial had ended after he stepped down as the country’s president.
A NAB official pointed out that no formal request had been made for reopening these references against Zardari and that the court had done so on its own.
However, he added that the court had sought NAB’s comments on the matter.
“Before reopening the cases, the courts sought comments from the bureau’s prosecution wing regarding the reopening of pending cases against the former president,” the official said.
The source said that hearing these cases will be a formality as there was no substantial evidence against the accused. He added that the accountability courts had already acquitted Zardari’s co-accused in five of the six references. The hearing against the former president had been postponed indefinitely on grounds that the president had immunity from prosecution, though the apex court had not recognised the same.
As per NAB’s prosecution division’s report, Zardari is currently facing six references in accountability courts. Up to five references – SGS, Contecna, ARY, Polo ground and Ursus tractors deal – have been reopened.
In July 2011, pronouncing its verdict in the 13-year-old graft case – commonly known as the SGS reference – an accountability court had absolved all accused, except Zardari.
In the SGS reference filed in 1997, it was alleged that then prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari had received kickbacks in a pre-shipment contract between the Pakistani government and SGS. They were accused of receiving kickbacks through offshore bank accounts of Schlegelmilch.
The case against Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto has lapsed following their deaths while six foreigners have been declared proclaimed offenders.
This case involved an allegedly corrupt award for a contract for supervising pre-shipment at the Karachi port. The contract was awarded to the Swiss company Cotecna in exchange for a bribe during former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s second term. Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari were accused of taking a 6 per cent bribe on the revenue stream the Swiss company expected on the $131 million contract. A R Siddiqui, the sole accused, was acquitted in the case in September 2011, 14 years after the case was first filed.
Grant of licences to ARY Traders for import of gold and silver caused losses to public exchequer amounting to approximately Rs18.2 million. In this case, the court has acquitted accused Brig (retd) Aslam Hayat Qureshi, Salman Farooqui, Abdul Rauf, Jan Muhammad and Haji Abdul Razzaq Yaqoob. The case against Benazir Bhutto has already been withdrawn following her death and the court has termed Javed Talat and Jens Schlegelimilch as proclaimed offenders, while issuing their non-bailable warrants.
The illegal construction of the polo ground and other ancillary works at the Prime Minister House in violation of the rules and procedure and misuse of office by the accused is another pending reference. In this case the court has acquitted Saeed Mehdi, while the case against Shafi Sehwani, the former chairman of Capital Development Authority, was withdrawn following his death.
Ursus tractors deal
Another reference pertaining to Ursus tractors is against the alleged misappropriation in the purchase of 5,900 Russian and Polish tractors at a cost of Rs150,000 each, for the then Awami Tractor Scheme. Former president Zardari is one of the main accused along with former food and agriculture minister and current PPP MNA Nawab Yousuf Talpur and director general of A H Kango. An accountability court of the NAB had acquitted the co-accused Nawab Yousuf Talpur and AH Kango in the case. The Ursus tractors purchase deal allegedly caused a loss of Rs268.3 million to the ADBP and Rs1.67 billion to the State Bank.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2013.