Two prosecution witness statements were recorded against ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired captain Muhammad Safdar in an accountability court as a trial pertaining to three National Accountability Bureau (NAB) references against them went underway on Wednesday.
As the trial began, the NAB prosecution presented its first two witnesses in court ─ Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Joint Registrar Sidra Mansoor and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Inland Revenue Department representative, Jahangir Ahmad ─ both of whom recorded their statements.
Mansoor recorded her statement in the Avenfield flats reference, telling the court that she had appeared before the Investigation Officer in Lahore on August 18, and provided NAB documents containing the Sharif family's financial records.
"The records that NAB has presented in court hold my signatures and thumb impressions," Mansoor told the court, adding that, among other things, the records also contained audit reports of the Sharif family's various businesses.
In her statement, Mansoor revealed that the Hudaibiya Paper Mills audit reports consistently showed Rs4,946,000 in the company's accounts for five years between 2000 to 2005.
When Sharif's lawyer, Khawaja Haris, was given the floor to cross-question the first witness, he observed that the audit reports submitted by the SECP to NAB were photocopies and did not have the company's stamp on them.
Defending the authenticity of the documents, Mansoor said that the photocopies were provided to the SECP by the Sharifs' company as per the law.
FBR’s Jahangir Ahmad also recorded his witness statement and said that all tax records that NAB had provided to the court were given to the accountability body by his office.
Ahmad has been called to appear in court again in Nov 22 for cross-questioning in the next hearing of the case.
Court conditionally accepts exemption applications filed by Maryam, Nawaz
While the accountability court accepted the ousted PM's application for exemption from court hearings till November 27, it only conditionally allowed Maryam one month's exemption from court
Both Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz filed separate applications for exemption from future court hearings.
The ousted PM, in his application, had asked to be exempted from trial hearings for a month as the next spell of his wife's chemotherapy is about to begin.
"We have been together for 40 years, I can't abandon my wife in testing times," Sharif reasoned in his application.
In her application, Maryam had said that she would present herself in court whenever there is a hearing. However, she requested the court allow Jahangir Jadoon to represent her in court in case she had to leave the country in case of an emergency.
The NAB prosecutors had objected to both applications, asserting that as neither Sharif nor his daughter are ill, they should not be exempt from attending court proceedings.
'These courts have double standards'
As Nawaz Sharif left the accountability court, he spoke to the media and said, "The Panamagate verdict was given to tell the accountability court to make sure Nawaz Sharif is punished."
He added that the language used in the Panamagate verdict mirrors the language that his political opponents use.
"These courts have double standards. On one had we can all see the way my case is being treated, on the other we see how other people's cases are treated."
IHC sets date to hear Nawaz's petition for clubbing references
The court began proceedings against the three accused even though the Islamabad High Court (IHC) admitted Sharif's petition challenging the accountability court's refusal to club three separate references against him and fixed Nov 20 as the date for the next hearing.
This is the second time the former PM moved the IHC to club the three references. Earlier, the high court had accepted a petition and ordered on Nov 3 that the matter should be decided by the trial court. However, Accountability Judge Bashir had rejected the plea on Nov 8.
Sharif’s counsel sought a joint trial, arguing that the main allegation in all three corruption references was the same — that the assets under the names of Hussain and Hassan Nawaz were actually owned by Nawaz Sharif.
He pleaded that the three references had been supplemented by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, and six of the nine witnesses were common in references 18 and 19, while two out of 10 witnesses were common in all three corruption references.
The petition said the accountability court’s order was based on a gross misreading of the “facts” on which it was purportedly based.
Earlier, the accountability court judge had held that the prosecution or the accused could not insist on conducting a joint trial of offences, even if they were similar. The accused could not justify the clubbing of all three references for a joint trial in the circumstances of the cases, the written order had said.
The accountability judge had said the request for a single trial had been made in view of the convenience of the accused, adding that if joint charges were framed, the facts of each case could get mixed up. Moreover, the offences alleged in the three corruption references were not of the same kind.
A five-member bench of the Supreme Court on July 28 had directed NAB to file references against Nawaz and his children in six weeks in the accountability court and directed the trial court to decide the references within six months.
The Supreme Court also assigned Justice Ijazul Ahsan a supervisory role to monitor the progress of the accountability court proceedings.
NAB had filed three references on Sept 8 against Sharif and his family, and another reference against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. The three references against the Sharif family are related to the Flagship Investment Ltd, the Avenfield (London) properties and Jeddah-based Al-Azizia Company and Hill Metal Establishment.
The former premier and his sons, Hassan and Hussain, have been named in all three NAB references, while Maryam and husband Safdar have been named only in the Avenfield reference.