he Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is faced with a difficult situation after the Supreme Court of Pakistan struck down the amendments in the accountability laws, recently amended by the Pakistan Democratic Movement government. This is a disturbing development for the PML-N leadership, especially Nawaz Sharif who plans to return to the country from the UK after his legal team assured him of a ‘safe’ return.
On September 12, after meeting Nawaz Sharif in London, Shahbaz Sharif had announced that his elder brother will return on October 21. The Supreme Court in a majority verdict on September 15 ordered the restoration of corruption cases against public office holders that were withdrawn after amendments were made to the country’s accountability laws.
On September 20, the National Accountability Bureau wrote a letter to the registrar of the accountability courts requesting the re-opening of cases against public office holders that were closed in the wake of amendments to the NAB laws. As a result of this development, closed cases against PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Miftah Ismail and others will be reinvestigated.
This development has rung alarm bells not only for PML-N stalwarts but also for some PPP leaders. Former prime minister Shahbaz Sharif, who returned from London on Tuesday, rushed back for another meeting with his brother. His return to London within a few days was interpreted variously a sign of panic and urgency.
Nawaz Sharif’s return in the context of his convictions in Al-Azizia and Avenfield cases and re-opening of NAB cases against him has complicated the scenario. Sharif was convicted by accountability courts in two and sentenced to seven- and ten-year prison terms. His daughter, Maryam Nawaz, and her spouse Muhammad Safdar were also convicted in the Avenfield case. However, the Islamabad High Court acquitted the couple and, in the verdict, also mentioned that Sharif could file an appeal against his conviction upon his return.
Senior lawyer Saiful Malook tells The News on Sunday, “A full court of the SC is hearing a petition against the Practice and Procedures Bill. If the court decides that the law promulgated by the PDM government is legitimate, it will ease legal troubles for Sharif.”
Senior lawyer Saiful Malook tells The News on Sunday, “A full court of the SC is hearing a petition against the Practice and Procedures Bill. If the court decides that the law promulgated by the PDM government is legitimate, it would ease legal troubles for Sharif.”
“No existing law in Pakistan allows the courts to suspend the sentence for a person who is not in jail and grant him bail. What may happen in Nawaz Sharif’s case is that his lawyers will tell the court that Sharif went abroad while serving his sentence in jail with the permission of the court, therefore his stay abroad for his treatment should be counted as a period in custody and his sentence should be suspended,” says Saiful Malook.
“In another scenario, Sharif may go to jail for a short time. His counsel can then tell the court that the convict is back in jail and seek suspension of the verdict against him and protective bail.” The NAB’s prosecution team can then tell the court that they have no objection if the court suspends the verdict and grants him protective bail.
About the impact of Maryam’s acquittal on Sharif’s case, he says: “There would be no impact because the nature of the charges against Maryam and Safdar was different from the charges against Sharif.” He says that Maryam Nawaz was faced with charges of forgery (of documents in which she was shown as a trustee). Her husband was a witness to the deed. But Sharif faced charges for having bought the apartments through ill-gotten money.
Other cases that are likely to be re-opened against Sharif include the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case and the allotment of land case. “In these cases, Sharif’s immediate arrest is not on the cards as inquiries will take some time,” Saiful Malook adds.
A member of Sharif’s legal team, former law minister Azam Nazir Tarar, tells TNS that the SC’s verdict about the NAB laws will not make any difference to Nawaz Sharif and his cases. “The former prime minister will come back and face the cases the way he did in the past.”
He says that a video of the NAB court’s judge Arshad Malik, who had convicted Nawaz Sharif has shown that cases against Sharif were initiated to politically victimise PML-N leaders. “All PML-N leaders will face cases on every forum and will be acquitted because all are bogus cases,” he affirms.
Sharif is scheduled to return in October, reportedly following assurances by his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif and his legal team that it is safe to do so. Some political analysts have argued that this indicates that the PML-N has received assurances from the country’s powerful quarters. It has been pointed out while his conviction in politically motivated cases was wrong, grant of legal relief without the law taking its course would be similarly wrong.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at BukhariMubasher