‘VIP trial’ as Sharif family makes mockery of Pakistan’s courts
Bailable arrest warrant issued for disqualified PM after his failure to attend court, but accusations of special treatment are mounting
Amid allegations of partiality and discrimination, leveled against Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) by mainstream opposition parties, an NAB court last week issued a bailable arrest warrant for Pakistan’s three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his failure to attend the court in person.
The Supreme Court in July this year disqualified Nawaz following a probe into revelations about his family’s wealthy contained in the so-called Panama Papers. Cases relating to several offshore companies – including Avenfield Flats, Flagship Investment Limited, Al-Azizia Company Limited, Hill Metals Establishment, and 15 other firms set up by the Sharif family – were sent to the NAB for trial.
The family have failed to take the litigation proceedings seriously ever since being summoned on September 19. Nawaz has made two appearances in the court – once on September 26 and then again on October 2. His daughter and son-in-law have also appeared twice in the court, but his two sons have failed to show at all. Analysts say the family’s pattern of appearances is a well-thought-out ploy to obstruct justice.
Nawaz, who recently undertook an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia along with his mother, has been requested to attend court proceedings on November 3. However it is believed that he has chosen instead to fly to London, where he will consult with his party’s top brass, including the sitting Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif and other cabinet members.
The court indicted Nawaz in absentia last week on graft charges, while his two sons, Hussain and Hassan Nawaz, have been declared absconders in cases relating to the ownership of a dozen offshore companies in the UK and UAE.
“The accountability court did not freeze the assets and bank accounts of Sharif family because it is conducting a ‘VIP trial'”
Opposition parties allege that the NAB is being far too lenient on the Sharif family, however. They have criticized the anti-graft body for failing to put Sharif family members on the country’s Exit Control List, let alone arresting them, which would be in accordance with standard procedure.
They also question why the court has failed to re-open the Hudabiyya Paper Mills money laundering case against the family. Or indeed act on the Model Town massacre investigaton report, which alleged that Shahbaz Sharif had a role in ordering police to gun down more than a dozen activists – including women and children – from the centrist Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) party on June 17, 2014.
Such failures, say opposition parties, point to an understanding between the establishment and the Sharif family that allows them impunity.
The picture was aggravated by the NAB’s arrest last week, on corruption charges, of Sharjeel Memon, a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) politician who formerly served as information minister in Sindh province and is a close aide of the country’s former president Asif Ali Zardari. Rejected bail, Memon was grabbed outside the Sindh High Court and roughed up by NAB officials before being whisked away. The PPP has not been slow to question the different treatment afforded the Sharif family.
Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, chief of the Awami Muslim League party, said at a public rally in early September that Sharif had demanded a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) from the army. Such a move has precedence: the country’s former military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, issued an NRO granting scores of PPP politicians, aides and bureaucrats amnesty in cases relating to corruption, murder, terrorism and money laundering, on October 5, 2007.
Ishfaq Paracha, leader of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, said that despite laundering “billions,” the Sharif family was being given special treatment. “The accountability court did not freeze the assets and bank accounts of Sharif family because it is conducting a ‘VIP trial,'” he said.