Accountability court declares Ishaq Dar an absconder

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar

(Mohammad Imran/Dawn)

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was declared an absconder by an accountability court in Islamabad on Tuesday in a corruption reference filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

During an accountability hearing pertaining to Dar, who is accused of amassing assets of an approximate value of Rs831.7 million — disproportionate to his known sources of income ─ NAB’s investigating officer Nadir Abbass told the court that a NAB team had visited the minister’s residence in Lahore and Islamabad after non-bailable arrest warrants were issued against him.

However, Abbass said, Dar was not found at either one of his residential addresses. For some time now, the minister has been in London where he is undergoing medical treatment.

The investigating officer claimed that the minister is in London to save himself from the court’s action.

Declaring Dar an absconder, the accountability court said that steps will be taken to declare the the minister a proclaimed offender within ten days.

A show-cause notice was issued to Dar’s guarantor, who was asked to submit a reply before the court by November 24 regarding the minister’s absence from court.

Earlier, two prosecution witnesses appeared in court to record their statements.

Dar’s lawyer today presented a medical report for his client dated Nov 16 in court. The finance minister, who is currently in London, has attempted to excuse himself from appearing in court citing his ill health.

NAB, however, raised objections concerning Dar’s medical reports.

NAB Prosecutor Imran Shafiq pointed out discrepancies in two medical reports submitted to the court ─ one earlier and one today ─ saying that the first report claimed Dar was suffering heart disease and that he had a history of the illness, but today’s report said that the finance minister is experiencing certain symptoms that are being diagnosed.

The special prosecutor observed that the report does not even adhere completely to British law.

Dar’s lawyer hit out at the NAB team, saying that despite the court’s earlier orders, the finance minister’s report was not verified by the accountability body.

“They’re afraid that once the report is verified, they’ll run out of things to say,” the lawyer claimed.

The special prosecutor informed the court that NAB had already written to the Foreign Office for verification of Dar’s medical report.

The hearing was adjourned till December 4.

Earlier hearings

Last week, Dar’s counsel, Qusain Faisal Mufti, had told the accountability court that during his client’s angiography, it was discovered that one of the blood vessels leading to his heart had ruptured, offering that the court try him via video link.

Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir, however, had dismissed Dar’s application and directed his guarantors to ensure the finance minister’s presence at the next hearing on Nov 21 (today), or else face confiscation of his bail bonds.

Ishaq Dar today also wanted to appoint an attorney through his lawyer, which the NAB prosecutor objected to.

Shafiq provided examples of four different court decisions on criminal cases, saying that attorneys cannot be appointed in such cases as per the law. The option to do so only exists in civil suits, he added.

Subsequently, the court reserved its decision on Dar’s request.

During earlier proceedings, the accountability court judge, Mohammad Bashir, had asked Ahmed Ali Quddusi ─ who appeared in court on Dar’s behalf as a pleader ─ when the finance minister may be expected to appear in court.

In response, Quddusi had said that according to a November 6 report from a private hospital in London, Dar’s recovery is expected to take another six or eight weeks.

Dar’s absence was first attributed to ill health on Oct 30, when the finance minister failed to appear before the court for a hearing. His counsel, Khawaja Harris, had subsequently informed the judges that the finance minister had been admitted to a private hospital in London.

If the rumours circulating in the capital are to be believed, the embattled finance minister’s cabinet slot may be taken away from him. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has already taken Dar’s seat on the Council of Common Interests, and speculation is rife about who may be chosen to replace him.

‘Assets beyond known income’

The noose seems to be tightening further around the incumbent finance minister after NAB decided to reopen the Rs1.2 billion Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference against him last week.

The Hudaibya reference will be the second ‘mega-corruption’ case against Dar being investigated by NAB, after the reference filed against him in the wake of the Panama Papers case judgement.

The reopening of the case was recommended by the joint investigation team formed by the apex court to probe the Panama Papers allegations against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members.

On July 28, a five-member Supreme Court bench had ordered NAB to file three references against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and one against Dar, on petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Imran Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sirajul Haq and Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.

In its reference against the finance minister, NAB has alleged that “the accused has acquired assets and pecuniary interests/resources in his own name and/or in the name of his dependents of an approximate amount of Rs831.678 million (approx)”.

The reference alleged that the assets were “disproportionate to his known sources of income for which he could not reasonably account for”.

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