Court issues arrest warrants for Asif Zardari in Toshakhana gifts case


ISLAMABAD: An accountability court in Islamabad on Tuesday issued bailable arrest warrants for former president Asif Ali Zardari in the Toshakhana gifts case which also involves former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gilani.

During the proceedings, Zardari’s lawyer Farooq Naek told the court his client had not appeared for the hearing because the former president is “of advanced age” and personally appearing could expose him to the novel coronavirus, Geo News reported.

Asif Ali Zardari

The judge remarked that Zardari would have to appear as it was a criminal case and denied his request for exemption.

Zardari’s counsel further argued that issuing arrest warrants would have been appropriate if the former president had no representation in court. Naek said he had appeared on behalf of the PPP co-chairperson, assuring the court that Zardari would appear in a later hearing.

Naek, while addressing the absence of Gilani, said the former prime minister had contracted Covid-19 and had gone into isolation. “Even I had isolated myself because I had come into contact with Gilani,” Naek said and offered to give a statement under oath on Gilani’s behalf. Accountability judge Asghar Ali adjourned the hearing until August 17.

On June 11, a non-bailable arrest warrant for Nawaz was issued by the accountability court in the Toshakhana reference. According to the accountability bureau, Zardari and Sharif obtained cars from the Toshakana by paying 15 per cent of the cars’ price.

The bureau further alleged that Gilani facilitated Zardari and Nawaz in this regard. Zardari had paid only 15 per cent of the total cost of the cars through fake accounts, according to NAB. He also received the cars as a gift from Libya and the UAE when he was president and used them for his personal use instead of depositing them in the treasury, the anti-graft body had alleged.

NAB had also said that Abdul Ghani Majeed paid for the vehicles through fake accounts whereas Anwar Majeed made more than Rs20 million through illegal transactions using the Ansari Sugar Mills accounts.

According to reports, Nawaz was not holding any public office in 2008 but was given a vehicle without any justification.

The Toshakhana (gift depository) gift from any country to the head of the state 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.

Meanwhile, the court also directed authorities to initiate the procedure to declare Sharif, whose arrest warrants were issued in an earlier hearing, as a proclaimed offender in the case, saying that the former prime minister was not taking part in court proceedings “on purpose”.