ISLAMABAD: An accountability court has fixed September 9 as the date to frame charges against former president Asif Ali Zardari in the Toshakhana reference, Geo News reported on Monday.
Zardari appeared before the accountability court today (Monday) to attend a hearing in the reference. Due to the COVID-19 situation, the party leadership had advised workers not to attend his hearing.
As soon as the former president arrived in the courtroom, Bilawal called upon party workers present to leave the premises. He urged even the attorneys' assistants to leave the courtroom due to the prevalent COVID-19 situation.
Zardari's lawyer Farooq H Naek complained to the court that he was not allowed inside the courtroom despite being a senior lawyer. "This is neither a military court not an in-camera trial," he said. "I am a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court and police pushed me away with their shields," he added.
Naek pointed out that former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani contracted COVID-19 after appearing before the court for a hearing. He wondered who will be held responsible if the same happened to Zardari.
Abdul Ghani Majeed's lawyer requested the court to allow the suspect to be presented before the court. "He [Ghani] hasn't been allowed to appear before the court yet," he stated.
The accountability court judge said that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's matter before the court will be heard on August 25. "By that time, the IHC's verdict will also be released," he said.
The court refused to proceed further against Nawaz till the IHC's verdict on his petition was not issued. Responding to complaints of the lawyers regarding the hindrances in reaching the court, Justice Asghar said that even he encountered difficulties while arriving at the court.
"I was also stopped at the police checkpost and had to take a u-turn to arrive at the court from another road," said the judge, adding that he would take up the matter with the administration so that such disturbances do not take place in the future.
The judge then proceeded to say that September 9 has been fixed as the date when charges against Zardari will be framed. The former president has also been asked to appear in person at the next hearing. Gillani, Anwar Majeed and Abdul Ghani Majeed have also been summoned to court on September 9.
Toshakhana reference background
The NAB reference filed against Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif accuses them of obtaining the cars from Toshakhana (gift depository) by paying 15% of the price of the cars.
Zardari also received cars as gifts from Libya and the UAE when he was president and used them for his personal use instead of depositing them in the treasury, the anti-graft body had alleged
Former premier Yousuf Raza Gillani has been accused of facilitating Zardari and Nawaz in this matter. The anti-graft body has accused Gillani of relaxing the procedure for acceptance and disposal of gifts.
Khawaja Anwar Majeed and Khawaja Abdul Ghani Majeed, owners of the Omni Group, are also nominated as accused in the reference.
According to reports, Nawaz was not holding any public office in 2008 but was given a vehicle without any justification. NAB says the leaders have been charged with corruption under sub-sections 2, 4, 7 and 12 of Section 9 (A) of the NAB Ordinance.
The Toshakhana (gift depository) gift from any country to the head of the state remains the property of the government unless sold at an open auction. Rules allow officials to retain gifts with a market value of less than Rs10,000 without paying anything.
Toshakhana reference: Nawaz Sharif challenges arrest warrant in IHC
Nawaz had requested the IHC through his counsel Jahangir Jadoon to nullify the accountability court’s earlier decision to issue an advertisement for his arrest.
Nawaz in his petition also requested the IHC to nullify the accountability court’s decision to issue the warrants. The petition added that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is targeting the opposition to suppress its voice.
“Nawaz Sharif is not a fugitive but is abroad undergoing treatment and should be allowed to face trial through his representative,” the petition had stated.
The counsel for the three-time former prime minister also noted that the European Union and Human Rights Watch have also expressed concerns over NAB's actions.