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August 30, 2017

Zardari references: Who got the record missing from court?

Top Story

August 30, 2017

ISLAMABAD: In a major scandal, ignored by both the judiciary and NAB, the last three major corruption references -- Assets, Cotecna and SGS cases against former President Asif Ali Zardari have been quashed in favour of the PPP’s chairperson because of the non-availability of original documentary evidence, which has gone missing.

Informed NAB sources confided to The News that one set of record, documentary evidence obtained from foreign countries, was available but the accountability court did not allow the Bureau to exhibit the same. These sources said that the second set of original record, obtained from local authorities, etc., was alleged to be missing from the judiciary’s possession and as a consequence the trial court acquitted Zardari.

Where is the missing record? Who is responsible for this? Why no inquiry has been ordered into this critically important aspect? These are the questions which remain unanswered. In a media report published a few months ago, it was said that the original record in the assets reference against former president and PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, which has been dragging on for around 15 years now, had gone missing from the custody of an accountability court.

Interestingly, this had not happened for the first time as the original case record in two other references -- SGS and Cotecna, where he was eventually acquitted -- had also gone missing. According to the report, NAB had also presented an affidavit before the Rawalpindi Accountability Court in the assets reference, saying that the bureau had provided the original case record to the court some 15 years ago, which had not been returned to NAB to date. NAB officials claim that that the bureau’s legal team had shown the court its own letter, which it had received when the original record (local documents) was submitted to the court. There is no documentary evidence that the record was ever returned to NAB.

During the hearing of the case, the trial court was also told that the record had gone missing from the court’s custody. NAB officials claim the bureau had filed the reference before an accountability court in Jan 2001, when the original documents related to the case were provided to the court.

According to one source, the NAB’s documentary evidence (local) was once submitted before the high court. The same record is missing now and because of the same reason the assets reference has been decided in favour of the accused.

Another senior NAB source said that the original record in the case belonging to foreign jurisdictions, is with the NAB. He said that during the hearing of the assets reference, the concerned investigation officer sought permission from the court to present the original record but following defence’s objection, he was disallowed to exhibit the original evidence.

The source explained that the defence had objected that the original documentary evidence could be produced before the court by those NAB officials who had actually brought them from foreign authorities. The NAB sources explained that none of the two officers, who had brought the evidence, are available because of the death of one and the shifting of the other abroad. For this reason, the available original documentary evidence was not allowed to be exhibited by the trial court.

This has happened to Mr Zardari twice in the past, when the original record in the SGS-Cotecna and ARY references was also found to be missing; something that became part of the reason for his acquittal in both references.

Talking to reporters outside the courtroom, Mr Zardari’s lawyer Farooq H Naek said that no record had gone missing in the assets reference against Mr Zardari. “It is an old record and the court staff is trying to locate it,” he said. Five more witnesses had to record their statements in the case, after which the court would deliver its verdict.

In 2015, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) co-chairman was acquitted by a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court in the SGS-Cotecna references. SGS-Cotecna reference pertained to the award of pre-shipment contracts in which AZ was accused of receiving six per cent kickback.

In the said cases, the NAB court had said the accountability body was unable to provide solid evidence and that the documentation presented in court was incomplete and in the form of photocopies rather than original documents.

The PPP, however, argues that the cases were politically motivated and aimed at victimising Zardari and his spouse Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. After the acquittal of AZ in the assets reference, the counsel for Zardari, Farooq H Naek, is reported to have said the references had been filed in 1998 and adjudicated in little less than two decades. 

He said six chairmen of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) retired, six prosecutors-general were replaced and several special prosecutors were appointed during the proceedings of the references. “A total of 40 witnesses were examined but no one made any direct allegations against Zardari or assigned him a direct role in alleged graft. The witnesses and evidences were shattered during cross-examination before the court,” he was quoted as saying.

Naek contended that the witnesses produced were irrelevant and the evidence produced before the court did not meet the standard envisaged in the Qanoon-e-Shahadat.

Naek said it was alleged that the properties located in Pakistan and abroad belonged to Zardari, but no evidence could be presented to establish the charges. He added there were flaws in investigation and at one stage, an IO admitted before the court that he had not brought on record any share certificates in the name of Zardari.