The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday said that it needs to be determined if former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been staying in the United Kingdom since November 2019 on medical grounds, was evading court proceedings on purpose.
The federal government told the court that the non-bailable arrest warrants issued for Nawaz earlier this month, in an ongoing case pertaining to the Al Azizia reference, were not received at his residence in London.
Additional Attorney General (AAG) Tariq Khokhar said that the arrest warrants were sent to Nawaz’s residence through Royal Mail Special Delivery but a person named Waqar Ahmed refused to receive the delivery.
A report in this regard was submitted to the court during a hearing of three miscellaneous applications filed by the PML-N supremo seeking to forgo the requirement of his surrender, pursue the appeal through a legal representative and exemption from court appearance. A two-member bench, comprising Justices Aamir Farooq and Mohsin Akhtar Kiyani, was hearing the case.
The IHC had issued the arrest warrants on September 15 after which the assistant registrar had, in a letter, directed the foreign secretary to ensure Nawaz’s production before the court on September 22. After the high court issued the arrest warrants, the PML-N had announced that it honoured the court’s decisions, but the supreme leader of the party would return once his health permitted him.
In today’s proceedings, the AAG represented the federal government while 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 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.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday tasked relevant authorities with bringing back the PML-N supremo from London at the earliest.
The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting where the prime minister also issued the directive to relevant authorities to pursue the matter vigorously.
According to a cabinet member, besides a normal application, a formal request for Nawaz’s extradition would also be made.
“Although we have no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom, wanted people can be repatriated under special arrangements as we had also handed over some people to the UK,” the cabinet member said.
Nawaz has also been declared as a proclaimed offender by an accountability court in the Toshakhana vehicles reference and initiated the process to confiscate his properties and directed the NAB to make his arrest through Interpol.