ISLAMABAD: During his trial in the accountability court, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif repeatedly applied for exemption from court appearances to attend to his ailing wife in London, but accountability judge Muhammad Bashir refused his request on at least five occasions.
Pakistan’s former first lady Kulsoom Nawaz expired in London on Tuesday, in the absence of her jailed husband Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam Nawaz. Even before being sentenced to 10 and seven year's jail, respectively, by the accountability court in Islamabad this July, the two leaders were unable to attend to the ailing Kusloom because they were refused an exemption by the court. However, on one occasion, Nawaz and Kulsoom were granted exemption by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court.
However, two other former prime ministers, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Yousuf Raza Gilani, facing similar corruption references in NAB courts had been granted permanent exemption from personal appearances by the same judge of the accountability court, on the grounds of threats to their personal security and their status as former prime ministers.
The first exemption request was made by Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz on September 26, 2017, citing the serious illness of Kulsoom. Defence counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed submitted an application seeking permanent exemption from attending hearings for his client on the grounds that his wife had undergone three critical surgeries and was due to undergo a biopsy. Nawaz needed to be with her at this critical juncture, he said
There were a number of precedents whereby the same court had granted under-trial suspects exemption from personal appearance, so Haris requested the judge to treat the application the same as “any other case”. But after initially reserving its decision, the court rejected the application for Sharif’s permanent exemption.
In February, Nawaz and Maryam again applied for an exemption to visit Kulsoom Nawaz in London for two weeks. Their counsel Amjad Pervez informed the court that Mr Sharif’s spouse was in critical condition and needed the supportive presence of her husband and other family members. He assured the court of Mr Sharif’s return and reminded it that his client had previously returned after inquiring after the health of his wife. However, the NAB prosecutors strongly opposed the plea and it was rejected.
On March 22, the court again turned down the plea of the former prime minister and his daughter for a week-long exemption from personal appearance to visit Kulsoom , who was about to undergo critical surgery at a London hospital. Accountability judge Mohammad Bashir dismissed the applications on the grounds that the trial of the Avenfield Properties reference was in its final stages.
On April 20, the court rejected another application of Nawaz and Maryam seeking a seven-day exemption from personal appearances before the court due to the deteriorating condition of Kulsoom. The court rejected the applications, but accepted their subsequent applications for a day off on Friday. He said that the accused could also file applications at the next hearing.
On June 7, the NAB court dismissed yet another application of the former prime minister, Maryam and her husband Captain (retd) Safdar seeking exemptions from personal appearance from June 11-15. The applicants sought the exemption to travel to London to see the ailing Kulsoom after doctors recommended that she undergo surgery. A medical report was to the application. Counsel for the applicants, Zaafir Khan Tareen, argued that Kulsoom Nawaz was a cancer patient and receiving treatment in London. But the NAB prosecutor argued that the accused were attempting to run away from justice.
Only one exemption application by the accused was ever approved, in November 2017. However, Nawaz and Maryam did travel to London on one occasion without awaiting the court’s approval.
When contacted by The News, a member of the NAB prosecution team said the decision to grant or refuse an exemption from appearance was the prerogative of the court. He said the NAB team opposed exemptions on sound legal grounds and was not motivated by any personal prejudice or malice.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said Nawaz and Maryum could have used weekends to meet the ailing Kulsoom . When his attention was drawn to the cases of two other former PMs who were granted permanent exemptions by the same NAB court, the prosecutor said the case of Nawaz Sharif was different. Each case has its own facts and circumstances, he said.