ISLAMABAD: All legal obstacles were cleared on Thursday for the smooth return of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as he was granted protective bail in two graft cases, and his arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case was suspended by an accountability court.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader sought bail in the Al-Azizia and Avenfield references from the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which approved the requests, granting bail until October 24.
The IHC announced the verdict, preventing authorities from arresting Nawaz Sharif when he returns to the country on Saturday, October 21.
The high court noted that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had no objections to the protective bail request in corruption cases.
Earlier, an accountability court suspended the arrest warrant issued in the Toshakhana case.
A two-member IHC bench, including Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, heard Nawaz’s bail petitions.
The IHC had previously issued a notice to NAB on Nawaz’s petitions for protective bail in corruption references.
Rafay Maqsood from NAB Rawalpindi Bureau was nominated as a prosecutor for the case.
The former prime minister, a three-time officeholder, had been declared a proclaimed offender by the IHC in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia cases due to non-compliance after he traveled to London for medical treatment in November 2019 with the court’s permission.
Nawaz was sentenced to 10 and seven years in prison in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references, respectively, by an accountability court in 2018.
His appeals against these convictions were dismissed by the IHC bench consisting of Justice Aamer Farooq and Mohsin Akhtar Kayani due to non-compliance.
In 2019, the Lahore High Court (LHC) suspended Nawaz’s sentence in the Al-Azizia reference on medical grounds, allowing him to seek treatment in London, from where he did not return.
Nawaz’s travel plan: Dubai-Islamabad-Lahore
Speaking to the media outside the IHC, PML-N leader Ataullah Tarar stated that Nawaz will arrive in Islamabad on October 21 and then travel to Lahore after legal consultation. He also confirmed that the PML-N’s rally at Minar-e-Pakistan would proceed as scheduled.
Tarar emphasized that Nawaz was granted protective bail in accordance with the law, and no extraordinary relief was granted.
Arrest warrant suspended in Toshakhana case :
Before the IHC hearing, an accountability court suspended Nawaz’s arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case after the NAB prosecutor raised no objections. The decision was announced shortly after the verdict was reserved on Nawaz’s plea.
Accountability court Judge Muhammad Bashir accepted the former PM’s plea and mentioned that the arrest warrant would be reinstated if the accused did not appear before the court on October 24.
During the hearing, Nawaz’s counsel Qazi Misbah implored Judge Bashir to suspend the arrest warrant, as his client intended to appear before the court.
Nawaz, a three-time former premier, is set to return to the country on Saturday, ending his four-year self-imposed exile in London.
During the hearing, Nawaz’s counsel informed the judge that the former PM wanted to appear before the court on the next hearing scheduled for October 24.
In response to the judge’s query about why Nawaz did not appear in court, lawyer Misbah explained that his client was unwell and submitted a medical report with the petition.
The NAB prosecutor did not oppose the plea, suggesting that the warrant be suspended if the accused was willing to surrender. The prosecutor emphasized that the purpose of an arrest warrant is to ensure compliance with the law.
Judge Bashir also inquired about the status of other accused, including former president Asif Ali Zardari. The lawyers informed the court that no arrests had been made in connection with the case so far.
Nawaz Sharif’s Dubai arrival delayed :
Nawaz’s arrival in Dubai was delayed due to an important meeting in Saudi Arabia, where he arrived last week on his return journey to Pakistan from London. He was originally scheduled to take a flight to Dubai at 10:30 am (PST) today but will now reach the Gulf state later in the evening.
Convictions and court orders :
It is worth noting that an accountability court sentenced the three-time prime minister in Avenfield and Al-Azizia Steel Mills references in 2018.
The sentence was challenged in the high court, which suspended the accountability court’s sentence.
Appeal proceedings for the petition challenging the sentences were underway when Nawaz traveled abroad for medical treatment and did not return to pursue the case.
The PML-N leader, after moving to the Lahore High Court (LHC) instead of the IHC, was allowed to go abroad for four weeks after his brother and party president Shehbaz Sharif submitted an undertaking in court, assuring Nawaz’s return once his health improved.
The IHC, in the absence of the PML-N leader, dismissed the appeals due to “non-prosecution” instead of adjourning the proceedings indefinitely.
The court declared Nawaz a proclaimed offender, noting that the appeals were rejected on technical grounds and not on the merits of the arguments.
The applicant can file an appeal against the sentence upon his return, the court added.