[Dawn 13 November 2019] ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Ailing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday refused to travel abroad for his medical treatment under the conditions proposed by the government after marathon meetings of the federal cabinet and its sub-committee, which ended in a deadlock.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo rejected the government’s offer made on medical grounds and to pay Rs7 billion as surety bonds — equivalent to the fines imposed on him by an accountability court in two corruption cases Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Avenfield properties — in which he was convicted.
At the end of the marathon meetings held in three sessions (from 10am to 1.30pm, from 2.30pm to 4.30pm and from 9.30pm to 11pm), Law Minister Farogh Naseem, chairman of the cabinet’s sub-committee which decides the cases of Exit Control List (ECL), told the media that the committee had reserved its decision and the final nod would be given by the federal cabinet. “We are not a decision-making authority but a recommendatory body and, therefore, we will present our recommendations to the cabinet today (Wednesday morning),” he said, adding that the decision on the matter was not time-barred.
He said the sub-committee had done its job on merit and its decision was not binding on Nawaz Sharif. Asked under what law the committee or the government could get surety bonds from Nawaz Sharif who had already submitted them to the courts, the law minister simply replied: “No comments.”
A member of the committee told Dawn that the government side had already made its mind, even before the meeting, that Mr Sharif would be asked for indemnity bonds if he wanted to travel abroad for medical treatment.
The government wanted that the PML-N supremo’s brother Shahbaz Sharif or his daughter Maryam Nawaz submit on his behalf surety bonds equivalent to the fines imposed on him in the two corruption cases.
“We categorically told the government that Mr Sharif would not submit any indemnity bonds to the government for his departure for London for his treatment,” a PML-N insider told Dawn in Lahore on Tuesday night. He said the government’s ‘conditions’ were brought to the knowledge of Nawaz Sharif by his younger brother Shahbaz at the former’s Jati Umra residence in the presence of Maryam Nawaz. “Nawaz Sharif said these demands/conditions are illegal and can’t be met in the presence of court guarantees already submitted to it (court) with regard to his bail,” he said.
The party insider said Mr Sharif expressed his annoyance over the government’s “tricks” on the matter. “The government cannot hold another court of its own on the earlier decision of the Islamabad High Court that granted Mr Sharif eight-week bail on medical grounds,” he said, adding that the Sharif family was also consulting its legal team whether to move the court for removal of his name from the ECL if the government did not decide the matter in his favour on Wednesday (today).
“If something happens to Mr Sharif, ‘Imran Khan and company’ will be responsible as his condition is critical and government is using the opportunity for their dirty politics,” another senior PMLN leader said.
Meanwhile, a PMLN lawyer, who represented Shahbaz Sharif in the sub-committee of the cabinet, said that in the presence of surety bonds submitted in both cases to the courts, there was no legal need to submit any more surety bonds to the government.
When contacted, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said Nawaz Sharif would not submit any fresh surety bonds. “No surety bonds as they are already submitted in courts,” she added. She said her party leadership would not accept another such demand.
A member of the federal cabinet told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan held a threadbare discussion on the issue of Mr Sharif’s exit from the country. “Although there was a divide among the cabinet members, majority of them were in favour of his [Mr Sharif’s] exit from the country and it was endorsed by the prime minister,” he added.
The departure of Nawaz Sharif for medical treatment abroad was delayed as the institutions concerned were reportedly not on the same page on the matter, especially the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The anti-graft watchdog, under whose complaint the name of the former premier was placed on the ECL, did not recommend his exist from the country.
“Here the main problem is that nobody is ready to take responsibility,” said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashid Awan while talking to Dawn on the role of NAB in the matter.
On the other hand, a senior NAB official, who did not want to be named, said that there were precedents in the past that the government had allowed many people on the ECL to leave the country without the bureau’s consent. He said SAPM on Tourism Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari [whose name was on the interior ministry’s blacklist] and Mubeen Sohlat [approver in the LNG case against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi], Gohar Ullah [a businessman] and Zahid Muzaffar [adviser to former finance minister Ishaq Dar] were some examples as their names were removed from the no-fly list without informing NAB.
After the first session of the sub-committee, Law Minister Naseem called on Prime Minister Khan when the federal cabinet meeting was under way and apprised him of the situation and findings of the committee on medical grounds.
The participants of the meeting said the prime minister had apprised the members that he had himself sent some doctors to Nawaz Sharif, including Dr Faisal Sultan, and got reports that the former premier was seriously ill. However, Mr Khan also feared that the past history of the Sharifs had shown that they could escape and would not return to the country once they were allowed to leave while facing corruption references.
“If Nawaz Sharif leaves the country and does not come back, NAB and the courts can ask us that why the government had allowed Nawaz Sharif to proceed abroad,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.
The meeting also referred to a decision of the Supreme Court in the Pamana Papers case in which Nawaz Sharif was bound to stay in the country and could not leave it for at least six months. “Supreme Court’s decision became anfractuous once Nawaz Sharif was sent to jail and the time mentioned in the judgement lapsed,” the meeting was told.
At a post-cabinet meeting press conference, SAPM Dr Awan said that there was a divide among the cabinet members on the issue of Mr Sharif’s exit and, therefore, the prime minister held voting and as majority votes were in favour of him leaving the country, the meeting decided to give him permission but under some conditions. The conditions proposed in the meeting were that Nawaz Sharif should be allowed to leave after submitting surety bonds; it should be a one-time waiver and his stay in any country for medical treatment should be time-bound.
She said that since Nawaz Sharif had not property in Pakistan in his name, the meeting decided that properties of his daughter Maryam and brother Shahbaz Sharif should be pledged as surety bonds.
A member of the sub-committee told Dawn that PML-N had not accepted the conditions proposed for Mr Sharif’s departure.
Atta Tarar, a PML-N representative in the meeting, asked the government members of the committee that they [Sharifs] had already submitted surety bonds in the two cases to courts and, therefore, no new surety bonds would be presented.