ISLAMABAD: While former prime minister Nawaz Sharif refused to receive his non-bailable arrest warrants in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case at his residence in London, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday wondered if the deposed premier was evading court proceedings on purpose.
Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court (SC) in July 2017 for concealing his assets and subsequently awarded seven-year prison time in the Al-Azizia graft case in December 2018, left for London in November last year on the pretext of medical treatment after he was released on bail by the IHC. He has been staying there ever since.
The court had issued the arrest warrants on September 15 after which the assistant registrar had directed Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood to ensure Sharif’s production before the court on September 22. Responding to the court order, the PML-N said the former premier “would return once his health permitted him”.
During the proceedings, the government informed the two-member bench, comprising Justice Aamir Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiyani, that the arrest warrants were not received at his residence in Mayfair, an upscale neighbourhood in the British capital.
Additional Attorney General (AAG) Tariq Khokhar said that the warrants were sent to Avenfield House through a special delivery of Royal Mail but a person named Waqar Ahmed refused to receive the delivery.
The AAG represented the federal government while the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor Jahanzaib Bharwana appeared on behalf of the anti-graft body.
No one appeared on Nawaz’s behalf as his lead counsel Khawaja Haris last week gave up representing his client after IHC rejected his application for deferring the issuance of the former prime minister’s proclamation.
“Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer has given a statement saying that he knows about the arrest warrants,” noted Justice Farooq.
“[We] need to see if [the suspect] is evading court proceedings deliberately,” he said.
The AAG told the bench that the Pakistan High Commission in the United Kingdom had contacted the Commonwealth office but the latter said that it “does not have the authority” to ensure that IHC’s order is obeyed.
“This means that the Commonwealth Office is not ready to facilitate us,” observed Justice Farooq. He said that the government should continue to take the measures it can, adding that the proceedings will “move forward according to procedure”.
The bench said that it had to “convince itself with evidence that the government tried its best to [ensure] the compliance of the warrants”. Justice Farooq said that all official documents will be made part of the case’s record before declaring Nawaz an absconder.
“[We] have to take this step-by-step. The purpose behind following the procedure is that no suspect can take any support in the future,” he said.
Justice Kiyani also stressed on following the procedure, adding that the court had granted Nawaz a “complete chance” and will decide upon his appeals after hearing them.
“The suspect must be sitting in London and laughing at the government and the public. It is a matter of extreme humiliation,” remarked Justice Kiyani and noted that Nawaz, while being abroad, was delivering addresses to the entire nation.
The court said that the statement of consular attache Rao Abdul Hannan will be recorded via video link in the next hearing and adjourned proceedings until October 7.