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Nawaz Sharif, Ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, disqualified by country’s Supreme Court, in its July 28 decision, in Panama Papers Case, today appeared before the Accountability Court in Islamabad. Court refused to accept his application to excuse him from the personal presence and issued arrest warrants for his daughter, Maryam, and sons – Hassan and Hussain – and son in law Capt. Safdar who are continuously in London and did not appear despite summons being served on Pakistan High Commission.

It was Nawaz Sharif’s second appearance before the accountability court – in references of corruption filed by NAB in pursuance of orders of Supreme Court. His last appearance was marred by scenes of chaos, when PML-N crowds barged into the court raising slogans and forcing the judge, Mohammad Bashir, to postpone proceedings. Court had requested protection and barred public and media from presence. Rangers guarded the premises enforcing strict entry requirements and many PML-N leaders and even minister of interior, Ahsan Iqbal, were not allowed to enter the court.

Legal experts are of the opinion that Nawaz lawyers want to delay the court proceedings as much as they can – and continued absence of Maryam, Hassan, Hussain and Capt. Safdar is part of that strategy

Nawaz Sharif could not be indicted even today. Law requires a period of seven days after all papers have been issued and received. However there is another complication that is delaying the process; sons and daughters of Nawaz (Maryam, Hassan, and Hussain) and his son in law (Capt. Safdar) are co-accused in this case and law requires all accused to be present in court before they can be indicted.

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Khawaja Harris, Nawaz’s lawyer, took the plea that Maryam, Hussain, Hassan, and Capt. Safdar all are attending to Kulsum Nawaz (wife of Nawaz Sharif) who is under treatment in London. Legal experts are of the opinion that Nawaz lawyers want to delay the court proceedings as much as they can – and the continued absence of Maryam, Hassan, Hussain, and Capt. Safdar is part of that strategy. Court had earlier issued the summons, which was sent to Pakistan High Commission in London, and today court finally issued their non-bailable arrest warrants and ordered NAB to present them before the court on next hearing on Oct 9.

Earlier it was reported that Nawaz Sharif will leave for London on Oct 5, after his court hearing on Oct 2; will still proceed or stay in Pakistan till Oct 9, is now not clear.

Ahsan Iqbal & PMLN Ministers furious

Ahsan Iqbal, Minister Interior, was furious for not being allowed entry into the court, by Rangers, and told the media that he will order Secretary Interior to explain that how he was not allowed inside the court. Punjab’s law minister, Rana Sanaullah, who appeared on TV channels told media that action of Rangers today – in not allowing court entry to Ministers – have clearly demonstrated that country is being controlled by non-democratic forces.

Opposition leaders and media commentators however accused that PML-N ministers and workers are bringing crowds into the court, in a deliberate plan, to intimidate the court and turn the corruption cases into a political circus. They pointed out that on the previous court date, legal proceedings could not progress because crowds created chaos inside the courtroom. Memories are still fresh of PML-N party workers and leaders attacking and ransacking Supreme Court in 1997 – when it was hearing a contempt case against the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

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Sheikh Rashid, leader of Pakistan Awami Muslim League, and one of the main petitioners against Nawaz Sharif, in Panama Case, however argued that court and administration have to find a way to let this be an open trial in the presence of media and political parties so that different sides do not get to speculate and present their own versions about what happens inside the court.

Corruption References by Supreme Court

Cases in Accountability Court, Islamabad, relate to the Corruption References filed by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as per the directions of Supreme Court of Pakistan in its decision of July 28 in the Panama Papers Case.

Legal experts remain divided on this issue. Many argue that Supreme Court, being a court of appeal, did not want to decide this matter, of corruption cases, without giving Nawaz and family, the opportunity of a trial court. Others think that court has been unusually lenient, despite massive evidence by the JIT, and has given Nawaz Sharif another opportunity to explain himself.

While Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif on his failure to disclose income received from his job in UAE, it refrained from making a judgment on the details of corruption presented by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). JIT was set up by the Supreme Court in its decision of April 20, when two senior justices (Justice Khosa and Gulzar) had concluded that Nawaz Sharif and family were unable to explain satisfactorily the allegations related to the money trail thrown up after the Panama Paper, but three junior justices (Ijaz ul Ahsan, Ejaz Afzal Khan and Saeed Azmat) on the bench wanted more thorough probe before making a final judgement.

All five justices, reached consensus on July 28, a decision that Nawaz was guilty of not disclosing the income from his job in UAE, however, they still did not pronounce a judgment on the serious allegations of corruption. Legal experts remain divided on this issue. Many argue that Supreme Court, being a court of appeal, did not want to decide this matter, of corruption cases, without giving Nawaz and family, the opportunity of a trial court. Others think that court has been unusually lenient, despite massive evidence by the JIT, and has given Nawaz Sharif another opportunity to explain himself. Corruption references also include 16 companies including Hill Metal Establishment and FZE Capital. Huge financial transactions kept on taking place between these companies despite most businesses being run on a loss. Nawaz Sharif was the chairman of FZE Capital, from where he derived his residential status (Iqama) in UAE.

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Supreme Court, in its July 28 decision, had given six months to the NAB and accountability court to finalize these cases. Pakistan has never been able to convict rich and politically powerful in corruption cases. Court proceedings have taken place in the past, but end up without conviction in delays on health grounds, and technical matters opening up the space for political deals between the prosecution and the accused. This case – against the most powerful family in Pakistan – will thus be a major test for country’s judiciary.

PMLN re-electing Nawaz its President

PML-N, the ruling party in center and Punjab, has called for an earlier session of parliament, which is beginning today on Oct 2, several days before schedule. Party is all set to get parliamentary validation for its amendments to the constitution that will make it possible for Nawaz Sharif to be re-elected as its President. Speculations are rife, on social media, that party will introduce other bills to amend the constitution, and will get help from PPP, ANP, and MQM – but this has yet to be seen and is not confirmed.

PMLN has also called a party convention, on Oct 3, in Islamabad, to amend it own constitution. According to Section 6 of PMLN constitution, Election Procedure, any person disqualified by any court or under Article 62 & 63 of the constitution of Pakistan cannot hold its party office.

PML-N enjoys a simple majority in the national assembly and bills have been passed through National assembly and Senate to amend Political Parties Order 2002 (PPO) and Representation of Peoples Act, 1976 (ROPA) getting rid of the clauses that forbid any person disqualified by courts to assume a party office. Nawaz Sharif had to step aside in August, after being disqualified by Supreme Court and on Aug 17, PML-N had elected Yaqub Nasir as its interim president.

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PML-N has also called a party convention, on Oct 3, in Islamabad, to amend its own constitution. According to Section 6 of PMLN constitution, Election Procedure, any person disqualified by any court or under Article 62 & 63 of the constitution of Pakistan cannot hold its party office. Party had taken a strict stand on this clause during the time period, 2008 to 2013 when PPP was in power.

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