–Court withdraws Aug 29 order seeking details of foreign assets belonging to Zardari’s deceased wife, former PM Benazir Bhutto
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered former president Asif Zardari to submit details of his and his children’s assets within 15 days, as it withdrew its Aug 29 order in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case in which it had sought details of foreign assets belonging to Zardari and his slain wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
A three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar had asked Zardari in the Aug 29 order to submit an affidavit highlighting details of foreign assets and bank accounts, including Swiss accounts, belonging to him, his slain wife, children (Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari) and other dependents.
The petition seeks recovery of public wealth allegedly wasted against the backdrop of the NRO in 2007. The petitioner has nominated Zardari, former president General Pervez Musharraf and former attorney general Malik Abdul Qayyum as respondents in the case.
Zardari filed a review petition in the apex court on Sept 18 challenging the earlier order, saying that seeking the details of Benazir’s assets was disrespect to a martyr. He argued in his petition that such details had nothing to do with the case and that it was out of context and against his fundamental rights.
After withdrawing its decision seeking details of Benazir’s assets during Tuesday’s hearing, the court asked Zardari to present the details of his and his children’s assets within 15 days. It also asked for the details of assets they had received in inheritance from Benazir Bhutto.
Zardari’s review petition had said that setting Oct 5, 2007 as the date from which financial information of his and his family’s financial information should be included in an affidavit is arbitrary, ad hoc and does not find basis in the law.
The review petition also said that the Aug 29 order had failed to take into account the practical difficulties that would occur while attempting to gather information required to be furnished in the affidavit, since the record is likely to have been shredded and no longer available, especially when it comes to old property documents and details of their sale and purchase price.
Zardari’s lawyer Farooq H. Naek requested that the court seek asset details for the past five years instead of 10 years.
Naek said that the court had ordered Zardari to submit an affidavit in line with Article 184(3), to which CJP Nisar replied that the matter was related to the nation’s wealth and interests, that is why Article 184 was used by the court.
“This is not an issue of corruption, we are expanding our circle of authority,” the top judge said. “If you don’t wish to provide an affidavit, don’t,” he added.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan questioned Naek whether they had destroyed the record themselves, to which the lawyer responded that he had already clarified what had happened to the record.
The lawyer told the court that his client had been imprisoned from 1997 until 2005 and was being asked for the assets of children who were not under his care.
Naek claimed that a trial of Benazir’s grave was being conducted, to which the CJP exclaimed that one could not even think of conducting a trial of the assassinated former prime minister.
“Benazir Bhutto was assassinated during your government’s tenure, yet you were unable to hold a trial on that case,” the top judge said.
Senior counsel and PPP leader Sardar Latif Khosa responded saying that appeals against the acquittal of suspects in the Benazir murder case were all being heard in the SC.
“You are in court all day. Tell us about it, we will hear your request,” the CJP offered.
Naek said that the NRO petition had been submitted on the basis of newspaper reports. He said it had been reported that damage of billions of rupees had been caused to the national treasury.
The trials in cases against former president Zardari have been wrapped up, Naek said, adding: After the NRO was declared invalid, the cases were reopened.
“What’s the harm if there’s another trial?” the CJP asked.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan inquired what had happened to the record which had been destroyed, and asked Naek if he himself had destroyed the record.
“Who destroyed the record?” he asked. “You said it had been shredded up and thrown away.”
The hearing of the case was subsequently postponed for 15 days.