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Court reserves verdict on Sharif’s exemption pleas

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An accountability court hearing three graft references against Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz has reserved its verdict on their exemption pleas. The two have requested an exemption from hearing for a week following 26th March to visit Kulsoom Nawaz who has been under treatment in the UK for lymphoma since late last year. The doctors want to consult Nawaz as the guardian of Kulsoom regarding her treatment.

The plea states that Ali Aimal and Jahangir Judoon will attend the hearings on behalf of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz respectively. The prosecutor Afzal Qureshi argued that the case is near to its conclusion and the accused shouldn’t be allowed to leave the country since it might be an attempt to flee justice. Nawaz and Maryam had earlier made a similar request to get exempted from hearing from 19th February but the request was turned down by the court.

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Following the earlier request, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had requested the interior ministry to place the name of Nawaz and Maryam on the Exit Control List (ECL) on 14th February. The interior minister Ahsan Iqbal had turned down the request stating that there was no full order on it. Later, Iqbal stated that the authority of placing names on ECL has been transferred to the cabinet and they will make a decision on it.

Some media sources suggest that cabinet will be making that decision today in a meeting. The fate of over 800 people will be decided in that meeting. The timing of the cabinet meeting is important since it is being held on the same day as the decision of the accountability court to decide Nawaz and Maryam’s exemption plea. If the court grants them permission to leave, the cabinet will not place his name on the ECL, and if the court doesn’t grant him any leave, the cabinet might have to place his name on the ECL.

There have been voices within the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who demand that Nawaz’s name should have been placed on the ECL. The most prominent among them is former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who reprimanded the interior ministry on the National Assembly floor for their failure to place Nawaz’s name on the ECL. He demanded that NAB’s request should not be turned not since it is the apex accountability body of Pakistan.

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Nawaz and Maryam’s rationale behind exemption plea

It is very likely that their exemption plea is a genuine request to tender after their ailing wife/mother who is under treatment in the hospital. Nawaz and Maryam’s name has not been the ECL since 28th July 2017, the day when Nawaz was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Panama Paper’s verdict. Even during the accountability court hearings that started from September 2017, Nawaz had plenty of opportunities to run and evade justice but he did not do so.

The prosecutors and NAB have been arguing that Nawaz wants to leave the country since the on-going graft cases against them in the accountability court are nearing their conclusion. By the looks of it, they are going against Nawaz. The head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), formed by the SC in the Panama case, Wajid Zia is currently recording his statement in the accountability court and it is being decided whether his statement is permissible or not.

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Once Zia finishes recording his statements in the hearing, the case will be concluded. It is expected to finish in the next month and even if the case is decided against Nawaz, he would be easily able to get a pardon since the President at that time would still be from PML-N. Political commentators believe that the attitude Nawaz has shown so far suggest that he is not in a mood to run but ready to fight the judiciary, which he has done so in the past year. Leaving the country wouldn’t serve his purposes and would go against his present agenda.