ISLAMABAD: The accountability court hearing the Park Lane reference has decided to indict former president Asif Ali Zardari via video link on July 6 after the PPP leader did not appear for the hearing on Friday.
The accountability court had summoned the former president to appear before the court for his indictment. However, Zardari’s lawyer Farooq H Naek told the court that it is difficult for his client to travel and he was at risk of contracting the coronavirus and was at danger, considering he was of age.
Naek reminded the court that former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani appeared before a court recently and contracted COVID-19. To which Justice Azam Khan replied,”You are also attending the session. Do you not value your life? If you are presenting yourself then you can also call Asif Ali Zardari.”
The court then decided that the former president will be indicted via video link and set the date of the proceeding on July 6. The judge instructed the National Accountability Bureau to make arrangements for filing the charges against Zardari.
Earlier this month, the court had deferred the reference till June 26, today.
During the last hearing, Zardari’s lawyer Farooq H Naik submitted exemption pleas on behalf of the former president and his sister Faryal Talpur from appearing before the court due to the prevalent coronavirus situation in the country.
To this Judge Azam Khan had said that social distancing would be maintained in the courtroom.
Naik had said that due to a large number of lawyers present in the courtroom, maintaining social distance would not be possible.
However, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor had said that copies of the reference have been submitted and the court should charge the accused. He added that arrangements have been made for the video statement of Omni Group chief Anwar Majeed.
“Coronavirus has spread in the country and older people are likely to be more infected with the virus,” Naik had told the court. “Both Zardari and his sister are over 60-years-old.”
In response, the accountability court had said that if the accused could not appear, they can record their video statement.
Background of the Park Lane reference
A report in The News showed that a Karachi-based private company, Park Lane Estate Pvt Ltd, had purchased almost 2,500 kanals of land near Sangjani from Faisal Sakhi Butt, who himself purchased the land from a Pakistani American living in Houston, Texas in USA, named Muhammad Nasir Khan, for merely Rs62 million.
Nasir Khan was the original purchaser of this land in 1994 and was alleged by NAB in 1997 to be the frontman of Zardari in the Ehtesab Bureau reference filed against him in 1997.
However, all the legal requirements were met and followed in the purchase and transfer of this land from one man to another and then to Park Lane Estate Pvt Ltd, which was a Karachi based company. According to the Form-A Annual Return of the company, its share capital, as reflected in the SECP record then, showed it had 120,000 shares of which Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari own 30,000 shares each.
Zardari was shown as a director and his son was a member with four others who appear as members and debenture holders.
In 1997 the Ehtesab Bureau of Mian Saifur Rehman, initiated a case against Mr Zardari while the FIA had arrested some persons in the case. Media reports in 1997 had then stated that Zardari had forcibly acquired this 2,500 kanals of land uprooting 300 families to set up a polo ground and a riding pavilion in Sangjani, 25 minutes from main Islamabad.
Former Ehtisab Bureau chairman Saifur Rehman had told a news conference on June 10, 1997 that the then chairman of CDA, now late Shafi Sehwani, a PPP-appointee, was also involved in the land scam. Some local residents including Sardar Ishaque, Raja Mehboob Elahi and Haji Bashir had appeared before reporters and had claimed that they had been forced to sell their land at a throw away price in 1994 and Zardari wanted to build a polo ground in Sangjani.
It was then alleged that a US resident Nasir Khan had been used as a frontman by Zardari. According to a 1997 news report, Nasir Khan was instrumental in making deals with the owners, whose lands were forcibly acquired by the revenue administration of Islamabad not for any official projects but for private ownership of Nasir Khan, who was acting at the behest of Zardari.