Zardari appears before the court in Park Lane reference via video link, pleads not guilty to charges
ISLAMABAD: Former president Asif Ali Zardari was indicted by the accountability court today (Monday) in the Park Lane reference filed via video link (NAB).
The court had already directed the anti-corruption watchdog to make arrangements for the accused to be present in the court for today’s hearing. NAB made arrangements for the former president to appear for the indictment through a video link from his residence — Bilawal House — in Karachi.
NAB has accused Zardari of abusing his powers as president and causing a loss of over Rs4 billion to the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). The reference has also accused Omni group’s Anwar Majeed and others of money laundering in the case.
The reference says loans were disbursed to an unnamed Park Lane company Parthenon and that it was done on the instructions of the former president.
Accountability court's judge Muhammad Azam Khan announced his decision to indict Zardari on Friday, after rejecting his request to dismiss the case.
Other suspects in the case also attended proceedings of the case via video link. Zardari told the court that his lawyer, Naek, was busy in court hence he could not be indicted today.
"Your lawyer knew beforehand about the date of today's hearing," responded the judge. "You will be indicted (today)."
The accountability court judge said that Zardari's lawyer could have sent his assistant lawyer to attend today's hearing. "These are just two simple sentences in English, you can listen to them and answer," said the judge.
Zardari requested the judge to write in his order that the charges were framed against him whilst his lawyer was not present in court.
"Charges are always framed against the suspect. If his or her lawyer does not present himself before the court, we cannot force [the lawyer] to do so," replied the judge.
The judge then proceeded to read out the charges against Zardari. The former president pleaded not guilty.
Trampling of rights
Youngest daughter of the former president, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari said that the judge trampled the PPP co-chairman's constitutional and legal rights by "rushing" through the indictment.
"Charges framed against my father today without his legal counsel present in court. He has spent 6 months in jail already and has been on ECL for 2 years now," tweeted Aseefa.
A report in The News showed that a Karachi-based private company, Park Lane Estate Pvt Ltd, had purchased almost 2,500 kanals of land near Sangjani from Faisal Sakhi Butt, who himself purchased the land from a Pakistani American living in Houston, Texas in the USA, named Muhammad Nasir Khan, for merely Rs62 million.
Nasir Khan was the original purchaser of this land in 1994 and was alleged by NAB in 1997 to be the frontman of Zardari in the Ehtesab Bureau reference filed against him in 1997.
However, all the legal requirements were met and followed in the purchase and transfer of this land from one man to another and then to Park Lane Estate Pvt Ltd, which was a Karachi based company. According to the Form-A Annual Return of the company, its share capital, as reflected in the SECP record then, showed it had 120,000 shares of which Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari own 30,000 shares each.
Zardari was shown as a director and his son was a member with four others who appear as members and debenture holders.
In 1997 the Ehtesab Bureau of Mian Saifur Rehman, initiated a case against Mr Zardari while the FIA had arrested some persons in the case. Media reports in 1997 had then stated that Zardari had forcibly acquired this 2,500 kanals of land uprooting 300 families to set up a polo ground and a riding pavilion in Sangjani, 25 minutes from Islamabad.
Former Ehtisab Bureau chairman Saifur Rehman had told a news conference on June 10, 1997, that the then chairman of the CDA, now late Shafi Sehwani, a PPP-appointee, was also involved in the land scam. Some local residents including Sardar Ishaque, Raja Mehboob Elahi and Haji Bashir had appeared before reporters and had claimed that they had been forced to sell their land at a throwaway price in 1994 and Zardari wanted to build a polo ground in Sangjani.
It was then alleged that a US resident Nasir Khan had been used as frontman by Zardari. According to a 1997 news report, Nasir Khan was instrumental in making deals with the owners, whose lands were forcibly acquired by the revenue administration of Islamabad not for any official projects but for private ownership of Nasir Khan, who was acting at Zardari's behest.