ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court Thursday sought complete record of the cases on the National Accountability Bureau’s appeal against trial court’s verdict for acquitting PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari in two references pertaining to Polo Ground and Ursus Tractors.

A division bench of the IHC comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb conducted hearing on NAB appeals and sought references record against Zardari’s acquittal from the accountability court.

During the hearing, NAB Prosecutor Jehanzeb Bharwana appeared before the court and presented his arguments. He submitted before the court that the IHC had sought required record on April 21, 2016. However, no record had been presented till yesterday.

He argued that Zardari was given benefit of the NRO, which was later declared null and void by the Supreme Court but at that time Zardari was the president. Bharwana added that an acquittal application could not be entertained without recording the evidence.

Hearing of case adjourned indefinitely

At this, Justice Athar asked that why the accountability court heard the acquittal application. The NAB prosecutor said the accountability court had maintained that trial would be a waste of time.  Later, the NAB prosecutor sought more time in the reference against Zardari which was fixed by the court for hearing after three years. The IHC bench deferred hearing for an indefinite period.

NAB had stated in its appeal that trial court had no powers to acquit the accused in corruption case. The anti-graft body had challenged acquittal of Zardari by an accountability court in two references in 2014. The last hearing on NAB’s appeal was held on April 21, 2016.

NAB had moved the IHC through its prosecutor general and challenged AC decision in which it had acquitted Zardari in two corruption references including Polo Ground and Ursus Tractors.

In the application, NAB had cited Zardari as respondent and pleaded the court to declare the said verdict of AC as null and void. The NAB prosecutor had also requested the court to permit them to produce witnesses and evidence against Zardari before the court in this matter. Earlier, Accountability Court (AC) Islamabad had acquitted former President Asif Ali Zadrdari in two corruption cases as the NAB failed to give any proof and produce any witness. The court announced the verdict saying the accused had not been proven guilty so far. It further stated that evidence against former president was not sufficient for further proceedings.

The counsel for the former president had contended before the court that the main accused in these references had already been acquitted, so a co-accused could not be tried and should be acquitted under the NAB Ordinance, 1999.

The NAB requested the high court to declare decision of the trial court null and void, submitting that it had given the decision in haste without assessing gravity of offence of the accused. NAB prosecutor contended that court’s decision was based on presumptions and conjectures which had no value in eyes of the law.

Therefore, he prayed to the court to set aside the said judgment of AC which exonerated former president Asif Ali Zardari from the charges of corruption in these two references.

Prosecutor further prayed to the court that accused may be sentenced in accordance with law and for the larger interest of justice as overwhelming evidence was available against him.

The NAB also highlighted in the appeal that the LHC’s deputy registrar judicial in a letter dated Feb 19, 2000, explicitly stated that Ehtesab Bench sent the original record and all the related documents to the Supreme Court in another appeal filed by the accused seeking acquittal in this case. However, instead of summoning the original record from the superior judiciary, the trial court opted for rejection of the appeal.

The prosecutor adopted that without summoning the original record and documents from the apex court, the accountability court proceeded to pass the acquittal order on an application moved by the accused under Section 265-K of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which empowers the trial court to exonerate the accused at any stage.

The Polo Ground reference was built upon the construction of a polo ground along with ancillary works at the Prime Minister House, which NAB said were illegal and in violation of the rights and privileges that were afforded to Zardari.

The reference filed in 2000 alleged that the polo ground at the Prime Minister House was constructed during the second tenure of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on the verbal orders of her husband Asif Ali Zardari to CDA chairmen Saeed Mehdi and Shafi Sehwani at an estimated cost of Rs52.29 million.

The NAB in the reference nominated the two former CDA chairmen as the principal accused. It was alleged that both former CDA chiefs got sheds constructed and carried out landscaping in a portion of the Prime Minister House and converted it into a polo ground.

Another reference, which pertains to the Ursus Tractors deal, alleged misappropriation in purchase of 5,900 Russian and Polish tractors for the Awami Tractor Scheme.

The court had acquitted the co-accused, Nawab Yousuf Talpur and AH Kango. The Ursus Tractors purchase deal allegedly caused a loss of Rs268.3 million to ADBP and Rs1.67 billion to the State Bank of Pakistan.