Asif Ali Zardari
Asif Ali Zardari will be indicted in the Toshakhana case on September 9. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: An accountability court in Islamabad decided to indict former president Asif Ali Zardari and others accused in the Toshakhana case on September 9 after rejecting his bail plea.

PPP co-chairperson Zardari arrived in court with his children Bilawal and Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari amid strict security. The court, however, adjourned the hearing until September 9 and asked the accused to again appear in person next time.

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Zardari’s counsel Farooq Naek said that the pre-arrest bail surety bonds were already submitted and he would appeal to the court to interrogate Zardari through video link due to his ill health and COVID-19 concerns.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto, speaking to the media outside the court, accused the government of playing “psychological games” with his family and “threatening” him to change his stance otherwise his father, party colleagues and workers will face the music. “We will not bend under anyone’s pressure,” and the PPP will not change its stance on 18th Amendment or the 1973 Constitution, Bilawal claimed.

Misuse of foreign gifts

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has accused former president Asif Ali Zardari and ex-prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gilani of misusing official gifts by foreign heads of states. According to the reference, during his tenure as president, Zardari received vehicles as gifts from foreign states, which “he neither reported nor deposited”. The anti-corruption body maintained that Gilani had illegally allowed the retention of foreign gifts to extend illegal benefits to Zardari and Sharif. The NAB document stated that both the former premiers, through dishonest and illegal means for their personal benefit, retained these vehicles against a nominal payment of 15 per cent of the total value of vehicles.

What are Toshakhana rules?

Pakistan’s presidents and prime ministers have to deposit gifts received by foreign dignitaries in Toshakhana (gift depository) as per the rules. These gifts are considered the property of the state unless sold at an open auction. In case the former leaders wish to retain such gifts they have to pay a nominal amount to the national exchequer.

However, the former rulers reportedly have misused their authority and unlawfully kept the gifts for their own or family’s use during their terms in office or after departure. Asif Zardari is alleged to have retained one-third of all expensive gifts presented to all former rulers within a year of assuming office, according to a 2010 report.

Nawaz challenges case

The accountability court had earlier issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif, who was declared an absconder after failing to appear in person. Sharif has challenged the accountability court’s proceedings and asked the Islamabad High Court to declare the summons in the case null and void.