Judge who cleared Zardari to hear references against Sharifs

ISLAMABAD: Four references against ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family have been placed before a judge who had acquitted former President Asif Ali Zardari in five corruption references.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Friday filed the references against Mr Sharif, his sons Hussain Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz, daughter Maryam Nawaz, son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

Registrar Accountability Court Ahmed Mushtaq Qureshi produced the references before the accountability judge, Mohammad Bashir, in an open court for scrutiny.

However, officials of the Islamabad police and some personnel from law enforcement agencies in civvies stopped mediapersons from witnessing the proceedings.

After the initial scrutiny, the judge asked NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzzafar Abbasi to submit additional copies of the references which may be provided to the accused persons.

Since the court sought the copies by Tuesday, the prosecution expressed the possibility that the court would issue summons to all the accused persons the same day.

Mr Bashir is the administrative judge of the accountability courts and only available accountability judge in Islamabad.

Another accountability judge, Nisar Baig, is being repatriated to his parent department – the Lahore High Court (LHC) – since his deputation period has lapsed.

Judge Bashir had earlier heard five corruption references against former president and PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari.

These were: ARY Gold, SGS, Cotecna, Polo Ground and Ursus Tractors corruption references.

Recently, Khalid Mehmood Ranjha, an accountability judge in Rawalpindi, acquitted Mr Zardari in the sixth and final reference related to his alleged illegal assets in Pakistan and abroad.

In December 2014, Mr Zardari was acquitted in the ARY Gold and Ursus Tractor corruption references.

The ARY reference was about alleged grant of licences to the ARY Traders for the import of gold and silver. The tractor reference pertained to alleged misappropriation in the purchase of 5,900 Russian and Polish tractors.

The SGS and Cotecna references were related to the award of pre-shipment contracts with allegations that Mr Zardari and his spouse had received six per cent of the total amount as kickbacks.

The Polo Ground corruption reference was about the construction of a multi-million polo ground at the Prime Minister House.

Before the acquittal of Mr Zardari by the accountability court of Islamabad, the co-accused in all these corruption references had been acquitted by the accountability courts of Rawalpindi.

The major reason for the acquittal of the accused was that the original record in all the corruption reference was missing and the prosecution produced the photocopies of the documents.

Some key witnesses also retracted from their statements which they had recorded about a couple of decades ago.

During the previous tenure of the PPP, Mr Zardari could not be tried along with the co-accused because of his presidential immunity. NAB reopened the cases against him after completion of his term in the office. During the retrial, the prosecution produced the same ‘insufficient’ evidence which they had produced during the trial of the co-accused persons.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2017

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