Pakistan's Supreme Court today issued notices to President Asif Ali Zardari and other legal heirs of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto in a case related to the transfer of assets worth billions of rupees.
The notices were issued by the four-judge Sharia appellate bench of the Supreme Court in response to a petition by a man named Mazhar Alam, who had appealed against a decision of the Federal Sharia Court to convert the Sheikh Sultan Trust into the private property of Zardari and other heirs of Bhutto.
In a verdict issued last month, the Federal Shariat Court reversed an order issued in 1977 by then military ruler Zia-ul-Haq to take over control of the People's Foundation Trust, which was founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with the financial support of the rulers of the UAE.
The trust owned huge properties in different parts of Pakistan. Zia-ul-Haq renamed the People's Foundation Trust as the Sheikh Sultan Trust and converted it into a public trust from a family trust.
In its judgment, the Federal Sharia Court declared Zia-ul-Haq's order as repugnant to Islam and directed the Pakistan government and its ministries and divisions to return the ownership, properties and assets of the state-run trust to the heirs of Benazir and her mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto.
Benazir Bhutto had challenged Zia-Ul-Haq's order in the Federal Sharia Court in 2002 but the matter was decided on April 15 this year.
Aslam Khaki, the counsel for Mazhar Alam, contended that the Federal Sharia Court had gone beyond its jurisdiction while deciding the case.
He said the court could only examine the Islamic provisions of any law. He argued that the Federal Sharia Court is not competent to strike down any law.
"But here the Sharia Court gave its benefits to the petitioner with retrospective effect," he said.
Replying to the court's query regarding the competency of Alam to file such a case, Khaki said that as the trust is a public property, any Pakistani can file the case against the Federal Sharia Court's decision.
"The people of Pakistan are beneficiaries of the trust," he said.
Khaki requested the apex court to dispose of his appeal by granting a stay over the transfer of the property. The bench said according to the constitution, if an appeal against a Federal Sharia Court decision is accepted by the Supreme Court, the implementation of the verdict is automatically halted.
After hearing preliminary arguments by the petitioner's counsel, the apex court issued notices to respondents in the case and adjourned the hearing for unspecified period with an observation that the case should be fixed at the earliest.
The respondents include the government, President Zardari and his three children, Nusrat Bhutto and Gulzar Ahmed, administrator of the Sheikh Sultan Trust.