Pakistan's ex-PM Imran Khan again evades court hearing in Toshakhana case, avoids arrest

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has failed to appear before a court in Islamabad to answer charges in a graft case against him, apparently a maneuver by his legal team to avoid arrest

Updated - March 14, 2023 05:35 pm IST

Published - March 07, 2023 07:21 pm IST - Islamabad

Former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. File

Former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

Pakistan's ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 7, 2023 failed to appear before an Islamabad court for the fourth time in the Toshakhana case even as the court refused to cancel the arrest warrant against him.

The Former Premier’s Counsel Sher Afzal Marwat, who appeared before the court, said 70-year-old Khan was unwell and “disabled” after being injured in the Wazirabad attack.

Mr. Khan has been in the crosshairs for buying gifts, including an expensive Graff wristwatch he had received as the premier at a discounted price from the state depository called Toshakhana, and selling them for profit.

Mr. Marwat said a "global spectacle” was created regarding the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief, whose party on March 6, 2023 challenged in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) the arrest warrant issued against him for not appearing before an Islamabad district and sessions court.

Requesting the court to give a date next week for hearing the matter, Mr. Marwat maintained that he would provide the power of attorney within “a day or two”.

Taking to Twitter on March 6, 2023, Mr. Khan slammed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's Government and said it was behind a total of 76 legal cases - so far - raised against him.

“This is what happens when a bunch of criminals is imposed on a nation by those who are devoid of intelligence, morality, and ethics,” he tweeted.

The ousted premier's lawyer said that it would be easier for the PTI chief to appear before the district court next week.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) counsel requested that the hearing be adjourned to March 9, 2023, which Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha substantiated and said the cricketer-turned-politician will have to appear before the IHC on that date.

“Imran Khan will definitely appear in Islamabad High Court on March 9,” Mr. Ranjha reiterated.

Also read: Islamabad court reserves verdict on Imran Khan’s plea seeking suspension of arrest warrant in Toshakhana case

Judge Zafar Iqbal then remarked that “in other words, Imran Khan will not appear before the session court even on March 9”.

Taking the stand, Mr. Ranjha urged that action be taken against Khan and questioned if a common citizen was also given such relief from appearing before a court.

“Imran Khan only appears before the courts when he wants to,” said Mr. Ranja.

Arguing that Mr. Khan was mocking the legal system, Mr. Ranjha added that on behalf of Mr. Khan, a continuous exemption application was filed, and the exemption was also granted.

The court maintained that the case would be processed according to the law.

The ECP lawyer said that Thursday should be the deadline for submitting the PTI lawyer’s letter and conducting the next hearing.

Also read: Pakistan court issues non-bailable arrest warrant against Imran Khan in Toshakhana case

Directing Mr. Marwat to submit his letter, the additional sessions Judge then adjourned the hearing till 2 pm.

Stating that Mr. Khan went to other courts but did not appear before them, the Judge asked his lawyer to name a case that had gone on for so long before the additional sessions court.

The PTI Chief on March 6, 2023 moved the IHC against the non-bailable arrest warrant ordered by the Islamabad sessions court in the Toshakhana case.

His lawyer Ali Bukhari in the petition before the IHC requested a cancellation of the warrant, arguing that it was “illegal” to issue a non-bailable warrant.

The IHC then gave Mr. Khan another opportunity to choose a date to appear before the courts in the Toshakhana (gift depository) reference.

The court also remarked that the warrants were not issued for arrests but to frame charges against Mr. Khan.

“You appear in court for the framing of charges and then request for an exemption,” Justice Mr. Farooq said. “The law is the same for everyone. What can the court do? “The court has to adopt a legal procedure,” he added, maintaining that Mr. Khan had to appear in the sessions court today (March 6, 2023) but he did not.

“You tell, when will he appear?” the Judge asked. “Imran Khan has to appear before me as well. He can come on March 9 and appear before the sessions court too.”

Here, the PTI lawyer said that Mr. Khan had severe security threats to which the judge replied that the court's judges received threats "every day" and asked if he should shut down the IHC because of it.

Mr. Khan's lawyer stated that he would consult with the PTI chief and get "instructions" on what to do next "within half an hour". The counsel announced that he would speak to Khan over video-link due to "security concerns".

The court adjourned the hearing for half an hour.

The Islamabad sessions court had earlier on March 7, 2023 rejected the request to cancel Mr. Khan's arrest warrant.

Mr. Khan had argued that the withdrawal of the summons would enable him “a fair opportunity to appear and defend himself” in the case, but the Justice said the PTI chief "willfully avoided" his appearance.

Mr. Khan has earlier thrice skipped indictment hearings in the Islamabad sessions court in the case.

In his assets declarations, he is accused of concealing details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana — a repository where presents handed to government officials from foreign officials are kept.

The Islamabad sessions court judge had on February 28, 2023 issued arrest warrants against Mr. Khan and adjourned the hearing till March 7, 2023.

On March 5, 2023 an Islamabad police team was sent to Mr. Khan's Zaman Park residence in Lahore with the court summons. However, the police returned empty-handed after the PTI chief evaded the arrest.

Separately, Islamabad Police on Monday registered a case against Khan and 150 of his party workers for obstructing law enforcement agency officials from implementing a court order against the ousted prime minister in the Toshakhana case.

The police faced stiff resistance from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) activists outside Mr. Khan's Zaman Park residence.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in October last year ruled that he made “false statements and incorrect declarations” regarding Toshakhana gifts.

The ECP, later on, asked the Islamabad sessions court to proceed against Mr. Khan under criminal law for hiding the sale of gifts.

Mr. Khan was ousted from power in April 2022 after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a U.S.-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China, and Afghanistan.

Mr. Khan, who came to power in 2018, is the only Pakistani Prime Minister to be ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

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