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Accountability court reserved judgement on Asif Zardari case

18 August, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: An accountability court on Thursday reserved judgement on an application seeking the acquittal of former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in a reference related to his alleged illegal assets in Pakistan and abroad.

The court has conducted day-to-day proceedings on the application filed by Mr Zardari seeking his acquittal under section 265-K of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in the nearly two decade-old corruption reference.

Though Mr Zardari had moved the application in January this year, proceedings progressed at a snail’s pace as his counsel Farooq H. Naek remained unavailable, first due to other commitments and later, due to an ailment.

However, following the verdict in the Panama Papers case on July 28, progress in the matter accelerated and the accountability court in Rawalpindi, with the consent of Mr Naek and the prosecution, began conducting day-to-day proceedings over the past few days.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) appeared to treat this high-profile corruption reference as a routine case, since it did not depute senior prosecutors and the case was handled by a lesser-known prosecutor, Tahir Ayub. Mr Ayub usually handles routine NAB cases before the Rawalpindi accountability court.

On the other hand, Mr Zardari was represented by former law minister Farooq H. Naek, who was assisted by a former NAB additional deputy prosecutor general and other lawyers.

On Thursday, Mr Naek questioned the admissibility of the evidence produced in court by the prosecution. Prosecutors had relied on the statement of an approver, Ausaf Ali Agha, who claimed to have set up four sugar mills on behalf of Mr Zardari.

The prosecutor argued that Agha had established Sacrand Sugar Mills, Ansari Sugar Mills, Mirza Sugar Mills and Bachani Sugar Mills for Mr Zardari in the early 1990s.

He told the court that Agha had confessed to setting up these sugar mills in the names of alleged front-men, which included Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and others. These front-men, the approver said, also received a certain percentage of the profit from these mills, while the lion’s share went to Mr Zardari himself.

This reference was once of five against the former president which were closed in 2007 under the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a deal signed between retired Gen Pervez Musharraf and PPP chairperson, the late Benazir Bhutto.

The ordinance granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats in corruption cases.

But in 2009, the Supreme Court declared the NRO void ab initio, and ordered the revival of all the cases.

By then, however, Mr Zardari had been sworn in as president, acquiring immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution. Consequently, NAB re-opened the assets reference in April 2015, after the end of Mr Zardari’s term.

The prosecution has produced 40 of its 41 witnesses, with star witness Barrister Jawad Mirza having ‘mysteriously disappeared’ when the accountability court summoned him to record his testimony. He was then declared a proclaimed offender.

On Thursday, Mr Naek contended that the witnesses produced so far were irrelevant, and that the evidence laid before the court did not meet the requirements of the Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Law of Evidence).

In his opinion, section 103 of the CrPC made it mandatory for the investigation officer to prepare a seizure memo for each and every recovery, along with the statement of at least two persons who were witnesses to that recovery.

The prosecution, he pointed out, did not bring any seizure memo before the court in the assets reference and produced all the evidence without fulfilling this mandatory requirement.

Therefore, such a recovery was doubtful in the eyes of the law and the benefit of doubt always went in the favor of the accused, he maintained.

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