A Pakistani anti-graft court today issued a bailable arrest warrant against ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif after he failed to appear before it in two cases of corruption spiralling from the Panama Papers scandal. Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir also dismissed 67-year-old Sharif’s application seeking exemption from personal appearance. Sharif, who left for London earlier this month to be with his ailing wife Kalsum who is undergoing cancer treatment, has not returned to Pakistan for the court hearing since he was indicted in three corruption cases. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on September 8 registered three cases against Sharif, his children and son- in-law in the accountability court following a verdict by the Supreme Court, which disqualified him after an investigation into corruption allegations against his family.
Sharif’s daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (retd.) Muhammad Safdar appeared in the court but Sharif was absent and his lawyer Khawaja Harris asked the court to exempt him from appearance, according to a court official. NAB deputy prosecutor general Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi opposed the application and said that already the court granted Sharif 15-day exemption that expired on October 24. He accused Sharif of delaying tactics. Sharif’s counsel said he left London on October 23 to appear before the court after a brief stop-over in Saudi Arabia in order to perform Umrah with his mother and pray for the speedy recovery and health of his wife. He told the court that Sharif was all set to leave for Pakistan from Saudi Arabia when he came to know that his wife was being admitted to the hospital on emergency basis.
In the prevailing circumstances, Sharif has been constrained to stay back to perform Umrah in the name of his ailing wife before leaving Saudi to London to be with his wife at this critical stage of her treatment, Harris said. The court after hearing arguments rejected the plea and issued a bailable arrest against Sharif in Al-Azizi Steel and Flagship Investment corruption cases and issued notices to his guarantor in Avenfield reference case as he was already given bail in the case. The court adjourned hearing in all three cases till November 3. Citing a source close to Sharif, Dawn reported that Sharif also held meetings with some members of the Saudi royal family yesterday, a development which some Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) insiders described as “positive”. The court last week indicted Sharif in three cases in his absence. The court had earlier announced to indict him on October 9 but postponed it till October 13 as Sharif was not present.
On October 13, the court adjourned the indictment Sharif till October 19 after lawyers created chaos in the court. The court during the hearing on October 9 decided to separate the trial of Husain and Hasan from Sharif and his daughter and son-in-law. It also ordered to start the process of declaring proclaimed offender to Sharif’s sons – Husain and Hasan – for failing to appear before the court. Heavy security arrangements were made and more than 400 security personnel deployed to deal with any untoward situation. Sharif’s family alleges that the cases are politically motivated. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The cases are based on July 28 verdict by the Supreme Court which disqualified Sharif and ordered to launch three corruption cases against him and his family, and one case against finance minister Ishaq Dar. The political future of Sharif, who leads the country’s most powerful political family and the ruling PML-N party, has been hanging in balance since then. Dar has already been indicted and his trial has been going on.