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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Sharif's former colleague testifies
Russian MI6 helicopter
Nawaz Sharif is accused over the purchase of a Russian helicopter
Pakistan's former foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, has testified in a court which is trying the deposed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Sharif has been charged with tax evasion in a private helicopter purchase deal, and faces 14 years in prison if found guilty.

He has already been given a life sentence after being convicted of terrorism and hijacking in a separate trial.

This latest trial is taking place inside the army-controlled 16th century Attock Fort, about 100km from the capital Islamabad.

Mr Sharif, who had earlier withdrawn his defence lawyers in protest, criticised the court proceedings.

But he agreed to cross-examine Mr Aziz who was brought on as a prosecution witness.

Defence

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas, who was in the court, says Mr Aziz did his best to defend his former boss during the cross-examination.

Sartaj Aziz
Sartaj Aziz did his best to defend Sharif
Mr Aziz said the Russian-built helicopter had been rented from a private company by Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party.

He said in 1996 he wrote to Pakistan's civil aviation authority asking it to transfer the helicopter in Mr Sharif's name.

Mr Aziz said he did this in his capacity as the secretary-general of the party.

Asked by Mr Sharif to explain the background of the purchase deal, Mr Aziz said the helicopter had remained grounded most of the time, because of a court case.

Since it was only transferred to Mr Sharif after June 1996 there was no question of it being mentioned as his asset in his tax return for the previous year.

In the following year, Mr Aziz said, the helicopter had crashed and so there was no need to pay any taxes.

During the course of the trial, Mr Sharif tried to read out a statement, but was not allowed by the judge to do so.

The deposed premier accused the judge of being unfair and said that was why his lawyers were boycotting the court proceedings.

The statement, which was later distributed by Mr Sharif's supporters, was yet another scathing attack on the accountability process being carried out by the country's military rulers.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif denies party rift
02 Jun 00 | South Asia
Sharif charged with corruption
25 May 00 | South Asia
Blow for Sharif lawyers
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