ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted six more weeks to the accountability court to wrap up proceedings in the remaining two corruption references against deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family and the one against former finance minister Ishaq Dar.

The top court, however, asked the parties (defendants, prosecution and trial court) to decide whether or not Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir should conduct the trial of the remaining references. A two-judge bench of the top court headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan took up the application of the accountability court judge requesting to grant more time for completing the trial of the remaining references against the Sharifs.

Last Friday, the accountability court while deciding the Avenfield reference sentenced Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz to 10 and 7 years rigorous imprisonment respectively while Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar was sentenced to one-year rigorous imprisonment. The trial court also imposed a fine of eight and two million pounds on the father and the daughter respectively.

The remaining two references against Sharifs include Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments references while the other reference against Dar is related to assets beyond known sources of income.

When the hearing commenced, NAB prosecutor Akbar Tarar informed the bench that a total of 18 witnesses’ statements were to be recorded in the Flagship reference and of them, 14 statements had been recorded, two had given up and two were yet to be cross-examined.

Likewise, in the Azizia Steel Mills reference, 20 out of 26 witnesses, had recorded their statements, two including JIT head Wajid Zia were being cross-examined while four witnesses had given up.

As regards the reference against Dar, Tarrar informed the bench that the former finance minister was an absconder while proceedings against the other 22 involved in the same case were underway.

The chief justice posed a question if the NAB court could decide the case in the eventuality that a person was not appearing before the court and was an absconder.

The NAB prosecutor cited Section 31 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, and said that he could be sentenced in this eventuality.

When chief justice asked how much time was required to wrap up the cases, the NAB prosecutor responded that the proceedings in the remaining references could not be held for the last one month.

During the hearing, Sharif’s counsel Khawaja Haris argued that when the trial was initiated, a request was moved for hearing the three references on the whole instead of hearing them separately as merits and witnesses in the cases were the same.

At that time, when Sharif had moved the application for combining all the references, it was decided that the trial of all the references would be conducted separately but separate judgments will be announced on the same day, he said.

Haris raised objections to the accountability judge and requested for transfer of the references to another judge as the former had delivered the verdict in the case.

He argued that since the witnesses and evidence in the remaining references were also the same, the incumbent judge had already applied his mind and his verdict would probably be the same as was delivered in the Avenfield reference.

Justice Ahsan observed that the witnesses in the Flagship Investments and Al Azizia references were different and there was no similarity between these references.

When the counsel noted that the bench may reject the request in its written order, he withdrew with his arguments and said let this particular matter be dealt by the accountability court.

The chief justice asked Haris if this issue was to be dealt by the accountability court, then why the same was taken up in the instant proceeding.

The chief justice told Haris as the arguments had been made now, there must be an opinion of the bench in its written order regarding the objections to the accountability court judge. 

Haris responded that the argument and bench’s observation in the written order will be unfair to him. He requested the bench not to mention the objections as well as the bench’s observation in the written order as it would prejudice the issue and he would have no case in the trial court.

Haris further contended that he too wanted that cases be decided as soon as early.

The chief justice told Haris that he firmly believed that the latter had been diligently working on the case. “You (Haris) want peace of mind,” the chief justice said.

The chief justice, however, reminded Haris that he (Justice Nisar) had also not been able to rest for days.

The bench observed that the parties — the NAB and the Sharifs — may file an application in the accountability court regarding the objection to the judge.