ISLAMABAD - Accountability Court Islamabad on Wednesday acquitted former president Asif Ali Zardari in the polo ground reference , but rejected his acquittal plea in two other corruption references (SGS and Cotecna), directing the prosecution to proceed further with these cases.
The verdict on acquittal plea in yet another two reference – ARY Gold and Ursus Tractors references – is deferred till June 4.
Accountability Judge Muhammad Bashir, after rejecting the acquittal plea moved under Section 265-K, directed the prosecution to depose the witnesses in both SGS and Cotecna references and adjourned the hearing till June 9.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had filed the polo-ground corruption reference in the Accountability Court in 2000, and implicated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and spouse Asif Ali Zardari along with two former CDA chairmen Shafi Sehwani and Saeed Mehdi. The former CDA chairmen were alleged to have constructed a polo ground in the Prime Minister House during Benazir Bhutto’s first term in office at the expense of public money.
The names of Benazir Bhutto and ex-chairman CDA Shafi Sahwani were dropped from the reference after their death.
It was alleged in the reference that the construction of the polo ground was executed on verbal orders from Zardari and Mehdi. The polo ground cost an estimated Rs 52.29 million loss to the national exchequer.
Rejecting the acquittal plea of Zardari in SGS and Cotecna references, the judge observed that an inquiry in the SGS as well as Cotecna references is “being conducted by Mr Justice Muhammad Anwarul Haq (of the Lahore High Court) under the orders of Administration Committee with reference to the judgment passed in the present case in favour of the co-accused.”
It may be mentioned here that the day the Accountability Court had reserved judgment on Zardari’s applications for acquittal in five corruption references, NAB officials had submitted a letter of the Lahore High Court regarding inquiries to ascertain how three court judgments carried identical text paragraph after paragraph and other anomalies leading to acquittal of all the co-accused in the corruption references.
LHC last year initiated an inquiry after it received various complaints filed by citizens based on newspaper reports according to which in at least three major corruption cases against Zardari - Cotecna , SGS , and ARY Gold references - the authors while writing judgments used similar words, expressions and even paragraphs.
Accountability Judge Muhammad Bashir referring to the corruption in the SGS and Cotecna references stated in the order that “the allegations against present accused (Zardari) in the reference included that unprecedented concern was shown by the petitioner/accused Asif Ali Zardari regarding affairs of pre-shipment inspection companies (PSI), and he intervened to secure the facilities to them.”
Zardari has been accused of taking kickbacks in awarding the contracts in both SGS and Cotecna references.
Farooq H Naek, counsel of Zardari said that his client had neither received any kickbacks nor commission, adding that he (Zardari) had no role in award of these contracts.
He said that in 1997, the caretaker government after overthrowing Benazir Bhutto’s regime implicated Zardari in fake cases.
He said that Ehtasab Act was promulgated for arm twisting of political rivals and to keep them out of political arena.
Zardari , being spouse of ex-PM Benazir Bhutto, was targeted and was implicated in fake cases, he said.
Judge Bashir, however, observed “the NAB cases, no doubt, are complicated, and specific allegations are raised against petitioner/accused, co-accused Jens Schleglimich has already been declared as proclaimed offender. Therefore, prosecution cannot be deprived to produce evidence as they have mentioned in their reply to petition under section 265 (K) criminal procedure code (for acquittal of Zardari)”.
Following announcement of the court order, Naek accused NAB for applying the same tactics as of Ehtasab Commission of former senator Saifur Rehman against Zardari .
He alleged that the submission of letter of the LHC Administrative Committee before the Accountability Court was illogical.
“I will discuss this matter with Zardari and after getting his advice will formulate future strategy,” he added.