Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was indicted by an anti-corruption court today, but the close aide of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif pleaded not guilty to possessing assets beyond his means.
Dar’s indictment comes a day after the Accountability Court decided to indict Sharif on October 2 after the former prime minster for the first time appeared before it to face graft charges against him in the Panama Papers scandal.
The 67-year old minister pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, terming them baseless.
Dar was swept up in the corruption case stemming from documents leaked from a Panama law firm, which appeared to show that senior officials, including Sharif, had undisclosed assets.
Anti-corruption watchdog National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on September 8 filed the case against Dar, 67, for possessing assets beyond his known sources of income following the July 28 verdict of the Supreme Court.
The apex court had disqualified Sharif as the prime minister and ordered corruption cases against him, his children Maryam, Husain and Hasan and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar.
Chaos prevailed outside the accountability court when Dar arrived for the hearing. The doors to the court were shut for reporters, and the finance minister had to wait at least 20 minutes before he was allowed to enter the court premises from the back door.
The minister refused to accept the charges read out by accountability court judge Muhammad Bashir and said his assets were in accordance with income and he will prove it with evidence during the trial.
The court ordered the NAB to present evidence and the NAB prosecutor submitted a list of 28 witnesses whom it would present in the court to testify in support of the charges.
Dar also appealed to the court to allow him to skip personal appearance during the trial and the court said it will decide later.
The court adjourned hearing till October 4 though it earlier decided to conduct day-to-day hearings in the case.
Under Pakistan’s laws, Dar can continue to work as a minister until he is found guilty. However, opposition leaders have asked him to resign on moral grounds.
Minister of state for information Tariq Fazal Chaudhry told media that Dar was not given mandatory seven days before indictment which was against the NAB laws.
“Dar has been indicted today though our lawyer urged the court to postpone indictment and give seven days from September 25 when the court decided to indict him, he said.
Chaudhry said that the court has summoned evidence on October 4.
“Initially two bankers have been summoned as witness on the next hearing but the prosecution plans to present more witnesses in the case during the trial,” he said.
Arif Chaudhry, President Islamabad High Court Bar Association, said that evidence of prosecution will be important as the court would decide the case on the basis of it.
“The evidence will be judged and defence lawyers will be given an opportunity to present counter evidence to reject the charges,” he said.
Rana Sanaullah, law minister of Punjab Province and a vocal member of ruling Pakistan Muslims League-Nawaz (PML-N) rejected the charges against Dar.
“The charges and indictment of Dar is a joke,” he said.
Dar has close familial ties to former Sharif. Dar’s son has been married to Sharif’s daughter Asma Nawaz.
He was also imprisoned when the Sharif government was toppled in 1999. He was under pressure by the Opposition to resign after the NAB filed case against him but so far he has refused to do so.
The NAB has filed three cases of corruption and money laundering against Sharif, his sons – Hassan and Hussain, daughter – Maryam, son-in-law – Safdar, and Finance Minister Dar in the Accountability Court in Islamabad and Rawalpindi recently.
Sharif’s family has alleged that the cases are politically motivated.