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Apex court rules against reviving Hudaibya case.

Byline: Malik Asad

ISLAMABAD -- The Sharif family, especially Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, heaved a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court dismissed on Friday an appeal of the National AccouAntability Bureau (NAB) seeking reopening of the Hudaibya Paper Mills reference.

While ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar are facing corruption references in an accountability court and his both sons Hussain and Hassan Nawaz have been declared proclaimed offenders in three references, the Hudaibya Paper Mills (HPM) reference was the only case in which Shahbaz Sharif could have faced trial as an accused.

NAB prepared the HPM reference against the Sharif family after the 1999 military coup which toppled the Nawaz government.

The Lahore High Court had on March 11, 2014 quashed the reference, but NAB did not challenge it in the apex court. The matter resurfaced during the hearing of the Panama Papers case.

A five-judge bench hearing the Panama Papers case had made a number of observations on the revival of the HPM reference. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, in his dissenting note in the April 20 verdict, also discussed the reference in detail and criticised the chairman and the prosecutor general of NAB for not challenging the LHC judgement.

Subsequently, NAB had filed an appeal in the apex court against the LHC verdict, but the bureau could not satisfy the three-judge SC bench for filing a time-barred case.

The SC bench comprising Justices Mushir Alam, Qazi Faez Isa and Mazhar Alam Miankhel, after hearing arguments of the NAB special prosecutor, announced the short order in the open court.

NAB prosecutor could not satisfy court over delay in challenging LHC verdict

'The appeal to condone the delay is dismissed,' pronounced Justice Mushir Alam, the head of the three-judge bench.

The bench chided the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) for not acting against the television channels which, despite clear instructions of the apex court, continued to broadcast programmes on the Hudaibya case. 'They tried to influence this case,' Justice Isa remarked, adding that Pemra was sleeping.

As per the National Accountability Ordinance, NAB could have challenged the LHC verdict within 60 days after its announcement. But the bureau challenged the judgement after over three-and-a-half years.

When the SC bench asked NAB special prosecutor Imranul Haq to satisfy the court over the inordinate delay, he could not give any plausible reason for that.

When the prosecutor started arguments on the merit of the case and was referring to the statement of former finance minister Ishaq Dar who had turned approver against the Sharifs in April 2000, the bench reminded him that 'we are not hearing reference, we are only hearing whether the appeal should be accepted or not'.

It may be mentioned that Mr Dar had testified before a magistrate that in the Rs1.2 billion money laundering scam, he was instrumental in laundering $14.88 million for the Sharifs. However, Mr Dar later backtracked, saying that he had turned approver under coercion.

The SC bench also noted that NAB did not array Mr Dar as respondent in the plea. When Justice Isa asked the NAB prosecutor when the charges against the HPM reference accused were framed, he said these had never been framed.

'Then, there is no case, if charge is not framed for last many years,' Justice Isa observed.

Giving the background of the reference, the prosecutor said there had been no progress in the reference after Nawaz Sharif had gone abroad on exile. On a court's query, he said at that time retired Gen Pervez Musharraf was chief executive of the country.

At this, Justice Isa remarked, 'Are you saying General Musharraf spoiled the reference. You can't say both [Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif] were hand in glove, you can even prosecute who was interfering in your work.'

When Justice Mushir Alam asked whether the reference had been dismissed, the NAB prosecutor said the reference had never been dismissed, but adjourned sine die twice.

He informed the bench that NAB had in July 2011 filed an application in an accountability court for restoration of the reference, but the LHC had in September that year issued a stay order in the matter. The high court had quashed the reference on March 11, 2014, he added.

He argued that the after the six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) submitted its report to the Supreme Court on July 20 this year, NAB had in an internal meeting decided to file the appeal against the LHC verdict.

The prosecutor pointed out that NAB had on July 21 also given an undertaking before the Supreme Court about filing of the appeal against the LHC verdict.

It may be mentioned that NAB implicated Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Ishaq Dar and other members of the Sharif family as accused in the Hudaibya Papers Mills reference. The NAB chairman pardoned Mr Dar after he turned approver against the Sahrifs.

After the Pakistan Peoples Party government tried to revive the reference in 2011, the Sharifs filed a petition in the LHC, requesting it to quash the reference.

A division bench of the LHC had on Dec 3, 2012 concluded that the reference might be quashed, but the judges disagreed with each other over the permissibility of reinvestigation into the matter and it was referred to a referee judge who held on March 11, 2014 that reinvestigation of the case was not permissible.

Then NAB prosecutor general K.K. Agha did not recommend filing of the appeal against the LHC verdict presuming that the prosecution case was weak and it would send a negative signal against the bureau.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Dec 16, 2017
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