Toshakhana: Zardari’s bailable warrants sent to NAB, Nawaz given last chance to respond

An accountability court in Islamabad advertised summons for PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and sent bailable arrest warrants for former president Asif Ali Zardari to National Accountability Bureau, following a hearing in the Toshakhana (gift depository) reference on Tuesday.

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The reference accuses Nawaz and Zardari of bending the depository’s rules for their own benefit to retain luxury gifts, for which they were facilitated by co-accused former premier Yousuf Raza Gillani.

An advertisement for Nawaz’s summons has been put up on the court premises. The court has given the former premier one last chance and asked that he appear before the court on August 17 to answer for the reference filed against him.

Proceedings to declare Nawaz a proclaimed offender are underway. According to APP, AC-III Judge Asghar Khan’s court “has started the process to declare Nawaz Sharif as an absconder due to his continuous absence”.

The court observed that Nawaz was “deliberately avoiding” appearing in court.

Meanwhile, arrest warrants for Zardari were also issued and sent over to NAB alongside bail bonds of Rs50,000.

The court noted Zardari’s “continuous absence” in hearings.

He is required to present before the court the Rs50,000 surety bonds and one guarantor. If he fails to do so, he will be arrested and produced before the court.

It may be noted that on June 30, the court had issued bailable arrest warrants for Zardari and started the process to declare PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif an absconder in the Toshakhana reference.

Gillani, who had been attending court hearings, sought exemption when he contracted the coronavirus. His son, Kasim Gilani, has blamed Prime Minister Imran Khan and NAB for his father contracting the illness due to court appearances.

What is the Toshakhana reference?

The Toshakhana is the country’s gift depository where any gift given to the head of the state by another country is stored and remains the property of the government unless sold at an open auction. Rules allow officials to retain gifts with a market value of less than Rs10,000 without paying anything.

According to a NAB reference, filed in March this year, when Yousuf Raza Gillani was prime minister, he extended illegal benefit to Zardari and Nawaz, allowing them to retain gifts given by various states and dignitaries with an illegal relaxation in rules.

The reference states that Zardari and Nawaz, “through dishonest and illegal means for their personal benefit and interest” retained luxury vehicles “against a nominal payment of 15% of the total value”.

It further states that Zardari accepted and received an armoured vehicle as a gift from the United Arab Emirates (BMW750 Li model 2005, Lexus Jeep model 2007) and one vehicle from Libya (BMW 760 Li model 2008) between September and October 2008. He was required to report and deposit the said vehicles with the Toshakhana but he did not.

According to the reference, Nawaz did not hold public office in 2008. However, from April to December 2008, he, too, obtained a relaxation for retention of Toshakhana gifts without submitting an application to Gilani.

NAB has also named Omni Group chief executive Khawaja Anwar Majid and his son Khawaja Abdul Ghani Majid in the case. It stated in the reference that Zardari made payments for the vehicles through the Omni Group chief and his son.

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