Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired captain Muhammad Safdar appeared before an accountability court in Islamabad on Wednesday as trial resumed into the corruption references filed against them by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
A number of senior PML-N leaders were present at the court to welcome Sharif.
Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir had last week granted Sharif a seven-day exemption from personal appearance while his daughter Maryam was exempted for a month. However, the duo appeared before the court today due to a change in their plans.
The exemption was granted on the grounds that both wanted to see the ailing Kulsoom Nawaz, who is undergoing treatment in the UK, as well as security reasons.
Maryam and Nawaz have now filed an application in the court requesting a change in the exemption period, seeking to be absent from December 5 to January 5, 2018. A decision on the exemption will be taken after the lawyers end their arguments.
The Sharif family members left the court after two prosecution witnesses recorded their statements.
Four new witnesses testify
NAB prosecution presented four new witnesses against the Sharifs today.
Mohammad Rasheed, Mazhar Raza Khan Bangash — who belongs to RIAA Barker Gillette law firm — Chaudhry Sugar Mills CFO Sahbaz Haider Chaudhry and banker Tayyab testified before the court.
The witnesses recorded their statements in the Avenfiled flats reference and were cross-examined by Sharif's counsel Khawaja Haris.
In his statement, Rasheed testified that he had received a letter from NAB Lahore on September 5. He appeared before the bureau and handed over the required documents to the investigating officer.
NAB prosecutor Afzal Qureshi exchanged hot words with the counsel as the former accused the latter of trying to confuse the witness.
Haris objected to what he called was "unnecessary intervention" from the NAB prosecutor.
"Khawaja sahib can ask anything and we stay quiet?" the prosecutor responded.
The witness stated that he had no personal connection with the documents he had submitted.
Bangash, the second witness, stated that he appeared before NAB Lahore on August 30 and submitted the requisite documents to the investigating officer. He verified the copy of his affidavit submitted to the court by NAB.
He said the documents submitted to NAB had been provided by his company but he could not comment or give his opinion on the document.
Objecting to Haris' comment that it is easy to speak the truth but "telling lies is different", the NAB prosecutor remarked: "It is inappropriate to call a witness a liar before the court."
Chaudhry said that he had recently taken up the CFO position at the mills, therefore, the documents presented by NAB regarding the mills were not prepared by him nor did they carry his signatures.
Tayyab, an employee of a private bank, confirmed that the documents pertaining to Nawaz Sharif's five bank accounts were prepared by him and carried his signatures. He further said that three of those accounts were in foreign currencies — US Dollars, British Pounds and Euros.
Haris objected that the documents presented by Tayyab had not been provided to him prior to the witness' statement, at which the court ordered copies of the documents to be provided to the lawyer.
At the last hearing, NAB prosecution had 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 in the references against the Sharif family.
Nawaz in relaxed mood
Compared to previous hearings, Nawaz Sharif appeared to be in a relaxed mood today and was seen smiling.
During the hearing, Sharif while addressing a journalist pointed out that his [the journalist's] wallet was protruding from his pocket and he should tuck it in.
"It might happen that someone pulls it out and I end up being accused for it," he quipped.
Talking to reporters as he exited the court, Sharif said his party would ensure the power of the vote in Pakistan.
"This is a democratic country... we will ensure the sanctity of [people's] vote here."
Sharif said he had been "hurt" by PPP's support the previous day for an opposition bill — seeking to restore the bar on a disqualified person from holding party office — in the National Assembly.
"PPP's democratic credentials are being questioned today," he claimed.
'We will continue to perform'
Earlier, talking to reporters upon his arrival at the court, Sharif said the sit-in held by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in 2014 is continuing in the country in one form or another to date.
He said "corruption cases" are now emerging against the PTI leadership as well, including Imran Khan, Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan.
Sharif alleged that verdicts against his family are announced swiftly and wondered when judgments against the PTI leaders will be announced.
"The standard of justice applies differently to us than others. The mockery of requisites of justice should be stopped."
Sharif said the court judgements against his family have affected the government's progress "but we will continue to perform".
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.