ISLAMABAD - Former president Asif Ali Zardari appeared before Islamabad’s Accountability Court (AC)-1 on Thursday for the hearing of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references against him. It was his first appearance before any court since the end of his tenure as President of Pakistan in September 2013.

Judge Muhammad Bashir heard the case pertaining to the five references against Zardari and during the course of proceedings, Zardari’s counsel Farooq H Naek submitted a plea stating that all other accused in Polo Ground reference had been acquitted and he pleaded the court to end charges against his client.

Zardari was not charge-sheeted in the initial hearing and the court adjourned the case until Jan 18. The former president arrived at the court amid tight security and he was accompanied by PPP workers and stalwarts. Former Federal Law Minister Farooq H Naek expressed his reservation saying that his client and former president has security threats.

Naek told reporters outside the court that neither any witness appeared in the court nor any evidence was produced. He said there is no ground of framing charges against Zardari as he is not the main accused and the main accused and others have already been acquitted. He said his client was not indicted today and the grounds of charge-sheeting are yet to be debated by the defence side. “We believe in rule of law... He is a brave man and will appear again if the court ordered,” Naek added.

Addressing media, Rehman Malik said PPP always respected the courts and so has former president Zardari which can be seen by the fact that he appeared before the Accountability Court. The former interior minister said, “We are suspects and not criminals as these are only allegations against the former president.” Malik said PPP have always faced victimisation adding that the party will stand and face any charges against them. He said putting leaders in jails and handcuffing them were not a big deal for the PPP.

The accountability court took a suo motu notice and reopened five references – polo ground, SGS, Cotecna, ARY and Ursus tractors – against Zardari in October, 2013. Earlier, the references were deferred because he enjoyed constitutional immunity during his tenure as president. The court had already acquitted other accused in these references. Zardari had last appeared before court in 2004 after which he got bail and went abroad.

Polo ground case is about the construction of a polo ground and other ancillary works at the Prime Minister House, which the NAB had declared in violation of rules and procedure and in violation of rights afforded to the former president. In this case, the court had acquitted Saeed Mehdi, while the case against Shafi Sehwani, the former chairman of Capital Development Authority, was withdrawn following his death.

In July 2011, pronouncing its verdict in the 13-year-old graft case commonly known as the SGS reference, an accountability court absolved all the accused except Zardari. In the SGS reference filed in 1997, it was alleged that then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her spouse had received kickbacks in a pre-shipment contract between the government and SGS.

ARY case is about grant of licences to ARY Traders for import of gold and silver that allegedly caused losses to the public exchequer, amounting to approximately Rs18.2 million.

Another reference pertains to Ursus tractors deal, which involves alleged misappropriation in the purchase of 5,900 Russian and Polish tractors at a cost of Rs150,000 each, for the then Awami Tractor Scheme. The court earlier had acquitted the co-accused Nawab Yousuf Talpur and AH Kango in the case. The Ursus tractors purchase deal allegedly caused a loss of Rs268.3 million to the ADBP and Rs1.67 billion to the State Bank.

Cotecna case involves an allegedly corrupt award for a contract for supervising pre-shipment at the Karachi port. The contract was awarded to the Swiss company Cotecna in exchange for a ‘bribe’ during former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s second term. Benazir Bhutto and her husband were accused of taking a 6% on the revenue stream the Swiss company expected on the $131 million contract.