NRO case: SC withdraws order seeking details of Benazir's assets

The Supreme Court on Tuesday took back its Aug 29 order in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case in which it had sought details of foreign assets belonging to Asif Zardari and his slain wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

A three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, which was seized with a petition filed by the Lawyers Foundation for Justice president Feroz Shah Gilani, had asked Zardari in the Aug 29 order to submit an affidavit highlighting details of foreign assets and bank accounts, including Swiss accounts, belonging to him, his slain wife, children (Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari) and other dependants.

Gilani’s petition sought recovery of public wealth allegedly wasted against the backdrop of the NRO in 2007. He nominated Zardari, former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf and former attorney general Malik Abdul Qayyum as respondents in the case.

Zardari on Sept 18 filed a review petition in the apex court challenging the earlier order, saying that seeking the details of Benazir's assets was disrespect to a martyr. He argued in his petition that such details had nothing to do with the case and that it was out of context and against his fundamental rights.

After taking back its decision seeking details of Benazir's assets during Tuesday's hearing, the court asked Zardari to present the details of his and his children's assets within 15 days. It also asked for the details of assets they had received in inheritance from Benazir Bhutto.

Zardari's review petition had said that setting Oct 5, 2007 as the date from which financial information of his and his family's financial information should be included in an affidavit is arbitrary, ad hoc and does not find basis in the law.

The review petition also said that the Aug 29 order had failed to take into account the practical difficulties that would occur while attempting to gather information required to be furnished in the affidavit, since the record is likely to have been shredded and no longer available, especially when it comes to old property documents and details of their sale and purchase price.

Thus, the review petition maintained, Gilani's petition does not fall within the purview of Article 184(3) of the Constitution since the Aug 29 order asks for details for a period spanning over a decade.

The former president's lawyer Farooq H. Naek today requested that the court seek asset details for the past five years instead of 10 years.

Naek said that the court had ordered Zardari to submit an affidavit in line with Article 184(3), to which CJP Nisar replied that the matter was related to the nation's wealth and interests, that is why Article 184 was used by the court.

"This is not an issue of corruption, we are expanding our circle of authority," the top judge said. "If you don't wish to provide an affidavit, don't," he added.

Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan questioned Naek whether they had destroyed the record themselves, to which the lawyer responded that he had already clarified what had happened to the record.

The lawyer told the court that his client had been imprisoned from 1997 until 2005 and was being asked for the assets of children who were not under his care.

Naek claimed that a trial of Benazir's grave was being conducted, to which the CJP exclaimed that one could not even think of conducting a trial of the assassinated former prime minister.

"Benazir Bhutto was assassinated during your government's tenure, yet you were unable to hold a trial on that case," the top judge said.

Senior counsel and PPP leader Sardar Latif Khosa responded saying that appeals against the acquittal of suspects in the Benazir murder case were all being heard in the SC.

"You are in court all day. Tell us about it, we will hear your request," the CJP offered.

Naek said that the NRO petition had been submitted on the basis of newspaper reports. He said it had been reported that damage of billions of rupees had been caused to the national treasury.

The trials in cases against former president Zardari have been wrapped up, Naek said, adding: After the NRO was declared invalid, the cases were reopened.

"What's the harm if there's another trial?" the CJP asked.

Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan enquired what had happened to the record which had been destroyed, and asked Naek if he himself had destroyed the record.

"Who destroyed the record?" he asked. "You said it had been shredded up and thrown away."

Naek said that the fundamental rights of the parties involved in the case should not be affected to which the top judge responded that stealing the nation's wealth was a breach of fundamental rights.

Naek asked the court to give him 10 minutes, to which the CJP asked why he was avoiding providing the asset details.

Naek said that suo moto notice cannot be taken against an individual to which Nisar said that Zardari was not an ordinary citizen but the former president, adding: "We should find out how the nation's wealth went."

Naek told the court the Zardari's slain wife's assets and those of his minor children were requested, and that the assets of minor children should not be asked for.

The CJP said that details of the assets received in inheritance from Benazir Bhutto and details of the children's property should be shared. The top judge asked for asset details for 10 years to which Naek said that they can only present them for five years.

The hearing of the case was subsequently postponed for 15 days.

On July 4, the apex court had asked for the details of assets of Pervez Musharraf, Zardari and former attorney general Malik Qayyum, in addition to furnishing bank accounts and assets both inside and outside the country as well as investments made in offshore companies.

Qayyum, asked for time to gather the details of the assets.

Musharraf's lawyer today also provided details of assets held by the former military dictator and his wife in Pakistan and abroad in court.

Musharraf assured of provision of high-level security upon return

The SC assured the lawyer of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf of the provision of high-level security to the former president were he to return to face pending cases against him, and directed his counsel to inform the court of the timeframe of his return within a week.

During the hearing, Musharraf's lawyer presented details of his assets in Pakistan and abroad.

According to his lawyer, Musharraf owns nothing in the country, whereas he has a flat worth 5.4 million dirhams in Dubai. A farmhouse in Chak Shahzad, worth Rs43.6m, has been leased in Musharraf's wife's name, lawyer Athar Shah told the court.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar asked the lawyer why Musharraf does not return to Pakistan. "He left the country on the pretext of pain in his backbone but he can be seen dancing abroad," the CJP remarked.

The lawyer said that the former military ruler respects the courts but could not return because of security issues. The chief justice said that the head of the Rangers force in the relevant province will be responsible for Musharraf's security upon his return to the country.

Musharraf will also be offered the services of best available doctors in the country if he comes back, the CJP asserted.

The court also ordered to de-seal his farmhouse to accommodate him upon his return.

During a previous hearing, the court had rejected an affidavit moved on behalf of Musharraf through his counsel.

According to the affidavit, the former military ruler owns an apartment in the United Arab Emirates worth AED5.4m, Mercedes Car model 2015 worth AED230,000, Tahoe Jeep model 2017 worth AED150,000, Impala car model 2018 worth AED130,000.

The former president also maintains a bank account at the Union National Bank, Dubai, with a balance of AED92,100 and another account in the United Bank at London with a balance of 21,550 pounds as well as shares worth AED268,653 in Dana Gas.

The chief justice had wondered whether it was possible for the retired army man to have bought the apartment in downtown Dubai even if he saved all his lifetime earnings.

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