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Special accountability court acquitted Asif Ali Zardari in possessing illegal assets

27 August, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: A special accountability court in Rawalpindi on Saturday acquitted Pakistan People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday in a reference filed against him some 16 years ago for allegedly possessing illegal assets.

The reference was filed by the National Accountability Bureau in 2001 during the tenure of military ruler Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf.

The request for Zardari’s acquittal, submitted by his counsel and PPP leader Farooq H Naek, was accepted by Accountability Court-I Judge Khalid Mahmood Ranjha, who ruled that the reference lacked a legal basis. The judge noted that the reference filed by NAB was not maintainable as the evidence submitted by the watchdog was only photostat copies, which held no legal value.

The reference was filed before the accountability court in 2001, but was closed in 2007 under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by the government of Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf.

However, the Supreme Court, in its verdict in the NRO case in December 2009, had ordered the revival of all cases closed under the ordinance. By then, however, Zardari had been sworn in as president and therefore enjoyed immunity under Article 248 of the constitution.

NAB re-opened the assets reference in April 2015, but the case had been proceeding at a snail’s pace. Early on, both the prosecution and defence counsels did not seem to want to pursue the case vigorously. There had been no progress this year either as Zardari’s counsel was unavailable either due to other commitments or ailments.

However, in the wake of the recent judgement in the Panama Papers case, Zardari’s counsel became available and the accountability court, with the consent of NAB, initiated daily hearings in the matter. Courts generally opt for day-to-day proceedings with the consent of both the prosecution and the counsel for the accused.

Zardari was exempted from appearing before the court.

Farooq H Naek, the counsel of Asif Ali Zardari, had filed the petition under Section 265-K of the Pakistan Penal Code. In the petition he adopted the stance that references filed against his client were politically motivated. He said the NAB has had neither proofs against his client nor the original documents. He said during the last over 16 years, the NAB shuffled four investigation officers and presented five investigative reports along with statements of at least 40 witnesses. Despite this, the NAB could not prove the case and failed to present original documents, he maintained.

Earlier this year, the prosecution had learnt that a star witness in the corruption reference had ‘mysteriously disappeared’. The witness in question, Barrister Jawad Mirza, was then declared a proclaimed offender by the Rawalpindi accountability court.

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