ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday granted former PM Nawaz Sharif a chance to “surrender” to the authorities before the next date of hearing and appear before the court on September 10.

A division bench of IHC comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani conducted hearing of the former prime minister’s petition seeking exemption from his personal appearance before the court in his appeals in Al-Azizia, Flagship Investment and the Avenfield references and the applications of Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar for adjournment of proceedings in their appeals against their convictions in the Avenfield reference.

During the hearing, Khawaja Haris represented Nawaz Sharif while National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Prosecutor Jahanzeb Bharwana and Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi appeared before the court on behalf of the anti-graft authority.

Vice President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz and her husband retired Captain Mohammad Safdar also appeared before the court.

The dual bench noted in its order, “We deem appropriate that an opportunity be granted to the appellant to appear before the Court and surrender to the authorities before the next date of hearing failing which proceedings would be initiated against him in accordance with law including but not limited to the provisions of National Accountability Bureau Ordinance, 1999.”

“Admittedly, the appellant is not on bail and is also not present in the court but has made an application for exemption from appearance due to medical reasons. It is not out of place to observe that the appellant did not inform this Court when he proceeded abroad or his name was removed from Exit Control List (ECL),” observed the court.

It added that moreover, the order passed by the Lahore High Court by removing the name of the appellant from Exit Control List (ECL) or permitting the appellant to travel abroad has no bearing on the suspension order as the appeal is being heard by this court.

During the hearing, the counsel for the appellant contended that this court had suspended the sentence awarded to the appellant and granted bail for a period of eight (08) weeks with the observation that if the same is to be extended the same shall be done by the Government of Punjab under Section 401(2) CrPC.

He submitted that the provincial government, vide its decision dated 27.02.2020, did not extend the suspension of sentence of the appellant and as such the suspension and bail of the appellant lapsed.

Sharif’s counsel further contended that the health of the appellant does not allow him to travel to Pakistan and appear before the court. He also informed the court that in this behalf, the appellant went abroad after he had filed a writ petition before the Lahore High Court and the same is still pending.

He also submitted that an undertaking was also tendered by the brother of appellant before the Court; that in terms of the undertaking if the appellant had to stay abroad for more than four (04) weeks the medical condition would be determined by the representative of High Commission of Pakistan in United Kingdom.

During the course of arguments, the counsel for the appellant was confronted and asked by the court that whether the appellant is hospitalised and the candid reply was in the negative.

Additional Prosecutor General, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) opposed the request for exemption and submitted that since the appellant is not on bail and hence he should be declared absconder.

In response to a question, both the counsels candidly admitted that since the appeal has been admitted to regular hearing even if the appellant is declared as an absconder the appeal is to be decided on merit.

On court call, Arshad Mehmood Kiyani, Deputy Attorney General appeared before the court. The IHC bench inquired from him that whether any effort was made to verify the medical condition of the appellant in terms of the undertaking executed by Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and filed before the Lahore High Court. The DAG sought time to obtain instructions in this connection.

The IHC bench stated that this court vide judgment dated 29.10.2019, had suspended the judgment handed down by the Accountability Court No.II, Islamabad, dated 24.12.2018 in NAB Reference No.19 of 2017 and granted bail to the appellant for a period of eight (08) weeks. It was observed in the judgment that if indisposition of the appellant continues then he may apply for extension of the suspension before the Government of Punjab under Section 401(2) Cr.P.C.

The court added that the provincial government vide its decision dated 27.02.2020 intimated the appellant that the request for suspension has been turned down, and hence suspension and bail of the appellant lapsed on the said date.

Later, the bench deferred hearing in this matter till September 10 whereas appeals of Maryam and Captain Safdar in Avenfield reference would be heard on September 23.

Sharif stated in his plea seeking exemption that initial medical examination and diagnosis preparatory to the applicant’s treatment were conducted and treatment options for the multiple ailment from which the applicant was suffering being finalized and further progress in this regard came to a halt on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. He added that due to this, not only the applicant’s progress toward treatment was stalled, he, on account of his old age, and critical medical condition, was further forced to predominantly confine himself indoors.

He adopted that after rejection of his request of suspension of his sentence on account of medical condition by the Punjab government, his counsel advised him that since the bail granted to him by this court stood revoked the moment the Punjab government rejected his application, any petition filed by or on his behalf against the order of the provincial government would be futile unless he was personally present in court.

Sharif’s counsel pointed that whether the applicant had regained his health and is fit to travel to Pakistan constitutes one of the core issues that is sub-judice before and will inevitably be adjudicated upon by the LHC.

“This fact was also in the knowledge of the Government of Punjab but instead of awaiting the decision of the LHC, the Government of Punjab proceeded to unilaterally reject the Applicant’s request in pursuance of its ulterior motives and pre-planned agenda to malign the Applicant,” maintained the application.

Therefore, Sharif prayed to the court that it may dispense with the personal attendance of the applicant. He also request that the court may either adjourn the appeals or his pleader be heard in support of his appeal envisaged by section 423 CrPC.

Speaking to the media before the hearing, Maryam Nawaz said that PML-N would definitely attend the All Parties Conference (APC) and she does not think that Nawaz would bar the party from attending the APC. She added that the APC would reveal that whether the PPP was with the PML-N or not.

She said that the opposition parties should work together to take action against the government. Commenting on Nawaz’s health, she said that no one would want to stay away from the country at this age. His treatment is continued but was delayed due to the coronavirus. Maryam further said that she wanted her father to complete his medical treatment and not come back to Pakistan.