Bailable warrant issued after former president fails to personally appear in court
An accountability court in Islamabad on Tuesday issued a bailable arrest warrant for former president Asif Ali Zardari in the Toshakhana reference, which has also accused former prime ministers Yousaf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif of purchasing state assets at below-market rates.
The court rejected a plea from Zardari’s counsel, Farooq Naek, that his client should be exempted from appearing in court during the COVID-19 pandemic as his presence could cause a large rush of people to gather, potentially aiding in the spread of the virus.
“Asif Zardari should appear before the court,” said Justice Asghar, adding that the reference was a criminal case and could not be avoided.
Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, the deputy prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau, claimed that the administration would prevent any rush from gathering and the former president must appear in court. “He [Zardari] should not be given any relief, non-bailable arrest warrants for him should be issued,” he said and accused Gilani of abstaining from appearing in court after being granted an exemption. The former prime minister has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is currently isolating.
During proceedings, the court also initiated the process to have Sharif, who is currently in London, declared an absconder in the case after issuing an order to advertise his summons. “No implementation was done on Nawaz Sharif’s non-bailable arrest warrants,” said the judge, adding that it appeared the former prime minister was “intentionally” avoiding judicial proceedings.
According to NAB, Zardari and Sharif bought cars from the Toshakana by paying just 15 percent of the market value of the vehicles. It has alleged that Gilani facilitated the two leaders in accomplishing this.
NAB has also alleged that Zardari received cars as gifts from Libya and the U.A.E. when he was president and availed them in his private capacity instead of depositing them in the treasury under law.
The Toshakhana refers to the gift depository maintained by the state. It retains a list of all gifts from foreign countries to heads of the state, as such assets are considered government property unless sold at an open auction. Rules allow officials to retain gifts worth les than Rs. 10,000 without paying any compensation.