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ISLAMABAD: The Panamagate Joint Investigation Team head and star prosecution witness in the Avenfield property reference, Wajid Zia, who on Tuesday had testified that the trust deeds of offshore companies Nielsen and Nescoll provided by Maryam Nawaz had been tampered with, conceded before the accountability court on Wednesday that not a single document was found during the probe to establish Nawaz Sharif’s ownership of the flats or to link him with the offshore companies.

Mr Sharif “neither was a shareholder, nor director or beneficial owner of these companies”, said the star prosecution witness when asked by defence counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed if Mossack Fonseca, the British Virgin Island attorney general and financial investigation agency named Mr Sharif as beneficial or real owner, shareholder or director of Neilson and Nescoll.

He testified that the former prime minister had never received rent for these flats nor any of the witnesses had ever told the JIT that Mr Sharif was the owner of the property. He claimed that Mr Sharif’s name never appeared in any document pertaining to investment, disbursement and the final settlement of accounts of the Sharif family with Qatari Sheikh Fahad bin Jassim Al-Thani regarding Avenfield Apartments from the 1980s till 2006.

The six-member JIT headed by Mr Zia and comprising representatives of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, State Bank of Pakistan and National Accountability Bureau was constituted by the Supreme Court on April 20, 2017.

Wajid Zia says no documentary proof found to establish former premier’s ownership of Avenfield flats, Gulf Steel Mills

When the defence counsel asked Mr Zia if Mossack Fonseca had written a letter to the JIT on beneficial ownership of the flats, the prosecution witness admitted that the team had not directly communicated with the law firm. However, he said it was partly correct that the JIT drew the inference of beneficial owner of the apartments through the letters provided by the Panamanian law firm. For this purpose, the JIT used legal provisions under the Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, 2008 and Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Code of Practice, 2008.

The witness further testified that Mr Sharif was not an owner or shareholder of Gulf Steel Mills. He said an agreement regarding the sale of Gulf Steel Mills shares named certain persons including Shahbaz Sharif, Tariq Shafi and Mohammad Hussain.

Asked if the JIT had called legal heirs of Mr Hussain, who was named as a partner with Tariq Shafi in the Share Sales Agreement of 1978, Mr Zia replied that the JIT was not able to trace any of his legal heirs.

The JIT head agreed that Mian Sharif had set up Al-Azizia Steel Mills and later transferred it in the names of Hussain Nawaz, Rabia Sharif and Abbas Sharif. He said Rabia and Abbas never derived money from Al-Azizia or participated in its business, as they had given power of attorney to Mr Hussain.

Commenting on his response, the defence counsel said: “This trial will turn out to be a drama.”

In reply to a subsequent question, Mr Zia admitted that the JIT did not write any letter or issue summons to Rabia Sharif and Abbas Sharif seeking explanation if they had received money, shares, profits or remittance from the business. He said the JIT came to know that Al-Azizia was run by Hussain Nawaz. Initially, Mr Hussain claimed that he was only a shareholder of Al-Azizia but later changed his stance, said the witness, adding that the former prime minister never derived money from Al-Azizia or participated in its business.

He further said Mr Sharif was also not involved in receiving and disposal of money derived from the sale of Gulf Steel Mills.

The defence counsel will continue to cross-examine the JIT chief on Thursday (today).

Lies have no legs, Maryam tweets

Commenting on his testimony, Maryam Nawaz later tweeted: “It is easy for a Whatsapped JIT to formulate predetermined reference behind the closed doors but it is another thing to defend the same in the court of law.

“I already said that the rivals should wait, Wajid Zia will testify in our favour. Lies have no legs to stand”.

In another tweet, she said NAB in the supplementary reference had declared Mr Sharif the owner of Avenfield Apartments.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2018