Pakistan’s anti-graft court on Wednesday rejected ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s plea for clubbing together three corruption cases filed against him by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog in the Panama Papers scandal. After the announcement of the judgement, Sharif was indicted separately in each of the three graft cases stemming from the Panama Papers leaks.
Now, 67-year-old Sharif will have to face three separate trials with hearings stretching out for months. The former prime minister pleaded not guilty to all the charges and contented that he was being deprived of the fair trial as the court was moving in a hurry to decide the case in six months as per direction of the Supreme Court. Rejecting the plea, Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir said that Sharif would be given fair trial under the law and then postponed the hearing till November 15.
Heavy security arrangements were made and hundreds of security personnel deployed around the court premises to deal with any untoward situation. Following the judgement, Sharif told media that Wednesday’s verdict would be written in “black words” in Pakistan’s history.
“I knew that review petition will not be decided in my favour because the judges (who issued the verdict in review petition) are full of vengeance and the decision reflects vengeance and anger. This will become part of black pages of history.” “There are several black pages in the last 70 years of Pakistan history when there were dictators. This judgement (of review petition) will also be written in black words,” he said.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has registered three cases of corruption and money laundering against Sharif, his family members and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the Islamabad Accountability Court. The cases were registered after the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif as prime minister on July 28 in the Panama Papers scandal.
Sharif, his daughter Maryam and her husband Muhammad Safdar were present in the court to hear the verdict. The accountability court had reserved its judgement yesterday after hearing the arguments by both sides. Judge Bashir in his verdict said that Supreme Court in its judgement had asked to institute three cases as they deal with different money trails and sources of money.
The court heard the case for the second time after an order by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which last week asked the trial judge to hear the cases and record the judgement in detail. Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Harris had argued that all three cases deal with assets beyond means and allegations and most of witnesses are same, so the references should be taken as one. But NAB lawyer Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi opposed the move.
Former NAB prosecutor Raja Amir Abbas said that Sharif can challenge the rejection of application in the high court. “Now the trial will resume from where it was stopped to decide the application by Sharif,” he said. The accountability court on October 19 rejected a similar application by Sharif to convert three cases into one. The rejection was challenged in the IHC which referred the case to accountability court with direction to reconsider it.
The Supreme Court yesterday said the disqualification of Sharif was “uncontroversial” and issued a detailed verdict rejecting review petitions filed by the Sharif family in the Panama Papers case. In its detailed 23-page verdict, the apex court observed that no error has been identified in the Panama case, which could be reviewed and the accountability court is free to make a decision on the basis of nature of evidence.
It is not clear whether Sharif would be present during the next hearing as he has already filed an application to let him appoint his pleader to represent him in his absence. The court has yet to decide the case. Sharif was also indicted last month through his representative Zaafir Khan as he was away in London to take care of his wife Kulsoom who is battling with throat cancer.