ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday acquitted PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif in the plane hijacking case and maintained that the instructions given by the former prime minister to divert then Army Chief Gen Musharrafs plane were not unlawful. The unanimous judgment, the operative part of which was read out by its author judge Justice Nasirul Mulk, said that investigations into the case were not carried out independently and that the approver, on whom the prosecution had founded its case, was neither a reliable witness nor his testimony was corroborated in material particularly. The judgment also said that Mian Nawaz Sharifs stand not to appear before the post-November 3, 2007 judiciary was based on certain moral grounds, which stood vindicated. A five-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, Justice Nasirul Mulk, Justice Mohammad Moosa K Leghari, Justice Sheikh Hakim Ali and Justice Ghulam Rabbani had completed hearing in the case on June 18, 2009 and had reserved its judgment. The judgment set aside the Sindh High Courts October 30, 2000 verdict, which had convicted the PML-N chief of hijacking the plane carrying Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf and 198 other passengers. Looking at the case from any angle, the charge of hijacking, attempt to hijack or terrorism does not stand established against the petitioner. Consequently, the petition is converted into appeal and allowed. The conviction and sentence of the appellant are set aside and he is acquitted, the 55-page judgment said. Mian Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to imprisonment for life twice and confiscation of his entire property by the Anti Terrorism Court, Karachi on April 6, 2000 on charge of unlawfully directing for diverting the said plane on October 12, 1999. The PML-N Quaid had moved Sindh High Court against his conviction by the ATC, Karachi, which through a short order on October 30, 2000 had modified the sentence of twice imprisonment for life to a single sentence of life imprisonment while ATCs orders of confiscation of his entire property was altered to forfeiture of his properties worth Rs 500 million. Detailed judgment in the case was released after more than a year on November 1, 2001. Mian Nawaz Sharif, by then, had left the country for living in exile after the President of Pakistan granted him pardon. Sharif returned to the country on November 25, 2007 while filed an appeal against the judgment of the Sindh High Court in the Supreme Court on April 28, 2009, which acquitted him of the charge of hijacking the plane. During the course of the proceedings of the case, the Advocate General Sindh Yousuf Leghari held that there was no need of filing the petition as the President had already granted pardon to the petitioner. The court, in its judgment held that 'the effects of the grant of pardon, even full, are not the same as an order of acquittal by a Court of Law and 'whereas the pardon wipes out the consequences of conviction, the conviction itself remains intact until annulled through a judicial process. Thus, notwithstanding the pardon granted to the petitioner, whether complete or limited, he remains invested with a cause to get the question of his guilt determined judicially, the judgment held. Prosecutor General Sindh Shahadat Awan had argued during the proceedings of the case that the petition was time-barred by more than eight years and was, therefore, not maintainable. The court, however, observed that there were solid reasons behind non-appearance of the petitioner before the court for the long period. The court held that the petitioner had tried to return Pakistan but was not allowed even the orders of the Supreme Court were violated in that regard. The court also held that the petitioners stance not to appear before the court even after his return to the country was not attributable to a personal bias against the court then constituted but on account of a public stand relating to the imposition of the state of emergency on November 3, 2007 and a resolve to launch a movement for the restoration of superior judiciary. The appearance of the petitioner before the court immediately after the restoration of the deposed judiciary indicate that the stance taken was based on a certain moral grounds which stood vindicated, the court observed. The court also held that the prosecution had not established that the petitioner was guilty of committing offence of hijacking as defined in Section 402-A PPC, which reads Whoever unlawfully, by the use or show of force or by threats of any kind, seizes, or exercise control of, an aircraft is said to commit hijacking. The court observed that as per the above-quoted provision of the law, the prosecution had to prove the following three elements for conviction of hijacking, that the petitioner acted unlawfully; used or showed force or threats of any kind and thereby seized or exercised control of the aircraft. The judgment said that at the relevant time, the petitioner was not only possessed with the authority under Section 6 of the Civil Aviation Ordinance, 1960 to order diversion of the aircraft but the evidence on record showed that on the subjective assessment of the circumstances its exercise was not unjustified. The instructions by the petitioner to divert the flight were, therefore, not unlawful. The prosecution has thus failed to prove the first ingredient of the offence of hijacking and the finding of the Appellate Court on this point is reversed, the judgment said. Moreover, the evidences showed that the pilot of the aircraft was unaware of the blocking of the runway and he had sufficient fuel to land at Nawab Shah as well as at Karachi. The pilot was not influenced by the circumstances alleged by the prosecution and was thus under no threat. Similarly, the petitioner had neither ordered closure of the airports nor blocking of the runways, rather he had issued instructions for the plane to land at Nawab Shah Airport once he gained knowledge of insufficiency of fuel. Therefore, the findings of the Lahore High Court and ATC, Karachi on this ingredient are contrary to the evidence on record and therefore warrant reversal and it is accordingly so held, the judgment said. The court concluded in its judgment the directions given by the petitioner regarding Flight PK-805 were neither unlawful, nor did he use or show force or gave threat of any kind for the implementation of his directions and that he had also not seized or taken control of aircraft directly or indirectly. The prosecution has, therefore, failed to prove any of the three ingredients that constitute the offence of hijacking as defined in section 402-A PPC. The judgment also said that the approver in the case, the then DG Civil Aviation Authority, Aminullah Chaudhary was neither a reliable witness nor his testimony was corroborated in material particularly. The court observed that Aminullah Chaudhary appeared not to be a free agent and was made approver under duress. The army had taken him into custody soon after the incident and remained there for about one month and was then in police custody for about 10 days, during which he was tortured to the extent that he feared that 'he would die of shock, as appeared in his application to the trial court, the court observed. Notwithstanding such complaint made to the Trial Court, he was again sent to police remand for further three days, which ended a day before he became an approver, the judgment said. The court observed that the approver does not appear to be a man of strong nerves as according to his own statement he implemented the instructions of the petitioner on account of concern for his own future, after he had heard that the petitioner had replaced the Chief of Army Staff. Additionally, he had tried to suppress truth in his testimony at the trial, the court observed. The judgment also expressed reservations over inordinate delay in lodging the FIR. We do not find ourselves in agreement with the Appellate Court that the delay in FIR was immaterial because the prosecution had not gained from it, the court observed. The judgment said that undoubtedly, the FIR could have been lodged soon after the incident as the basic facts were then available, which were even disclosed by then Gen Pervez Musharraf within hours of takeover. Like any other case, the evidence could have been collected during the investigation once the FIR was lodged. A unique mode was however, adopted in the present case. The Army had straightaway taken control of the matter and started its own probe, which is evident from the statement of as many as 10 witnesses, the court observed. The court stated that the mode adopted in the case might have had significant repercussions on certain aspects of the case. Some factual material, which could have thrown light on certain serious controversies, like the black box, the audio spools, which recorded conversation between the Air Traffic Control and the aircraft, were already taken into possession before registration of the case. The original contents of these recordings would have been helpful in finding out the exact conversation between the aircraft and the Air Traffic Control, particularly during the 30 minutes before the landing of the aircraft. Though the black box and the audio script were produced before the Court yet the same were not played. They had been simply handed over to the investigating officer and there was nothing on the record to show as to who had secured them from the aircraft, the court observed. Under the circumstances, when a probe was already going on for more than one month before the FIR was lodged and evidence collected by persons, whose identity was not disclosed, the possibility of tampering with these articles could not be ruled out, the judgment said. The court observed that the prosecution had put forth no explanation for the inordinate delay in lodging the FIR and that the investigation was not carried out independently and the testimony of the approver on which the prosecution is founded had not satisfied the conditions for acceptance of his testimony. Thus, regardless of the plea taken by the petitioner with regard to Section 6 of the Ordinance, the prosecution on its own standing has not been able to prove its case against the petitioner beyond reasonable doubt, the judgment said.