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ISLAMABAD: The Accountability Court hearing the Avenfield Apartments reference was informed on Thursday by chief of the joint investigation team (JIT) constituted in the Panama Papers case that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was employed to procure key material against Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, and her husband retired Captain Mohammad Safdar.

On April 4, the JIT head and star witness in the reference against Mr Sharif, Wajid Zia, had testified that evidence related to the Capital FZE, which ultimately led to the former premier’s disqualification as a parliamentarian, had been collected by two members of the probe team — Brigadier Kamran Khurshid of the Military Intelligence (MI) and Irfan Naeem Mangi of the National Accountability Bureau — in a single day.

On Wednesday, the ousted prime minister had criticised the inclusion of personnel belonging to the ISI and MI in the team investigating his case, which did not involve issues of terrorism or national security.

Responding to a question during his cross-examination on Thursday, Mr Zia told the court: “We utilised the services of Brigadier Noman Saeed [of ISI] to deliver the relevant material to Robert W. Radley.” Defence counsel Amjad Pervez had asked the witness how the JIT had delivered the trust deeds and other documents signed by Maryam Nawaz, Mr Safdar and others.

It was on the basis of Mr Radley’s report that the JIT had concluded the trust deeds of the offshore companies were not genuine.

The defence counsel asked Mr Zia whether it was possible for him to hire Mr Radley directly because under the Supreme Court order of May 5, 2017 every state institution was bound to extend assistance to the JIT.

Mr Zia admitted that Mr Radley could have been hired directly through Pakistan’s High Commission in London. Mr Pervez then asked him why the JIT felt the need for engaging for the purpose Quist Solicitor, the law firm of his cousin Akhtar Riaz Raja. The star witness was thinking of a suitable answer when lead prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi interfered and said the Supreme Court had allowed the JIT to hire experts. Mr Zia then replied that because the investigation team was working under a tight deadline, the law firm was hired to save precious time.

In response to a question, Mr Zia said that Mr Raja had called him to congratulate him on his appointment as head of JIT of a high-profile case. “Did anyone ever call you upon such an assignment in the past?” asked Mr Pervez.

The witness remained quiet for some time before prosecutor Abbasi said it was routine to receive best wishes from relatives on such occasions.

Annoyed over the interference by the lead prosecutor, Mr Pervez complained to Judge Mohammad Bashir that the prosecution was “depriving the accused of their legitimate right to fair trial”.

Earlier the lead defence counsel had alleged that prosecutor Abbasi had met forensic expert Robert Radley in the UK “to influence his testimony”, an undesirable practice in legal proceedings. Advocate Pervez also said the JIT procured the forensic record and other material related to the trust deeds in violation of the relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and that the statements of relevant officials had not been recorded as per the legal practice.

Interaction with media

Talking to journalists after the proceedings, Mr Sharif said that with the passage of time truth was coming to the fore.

He said the identity of the 40 “unknown persons” working in the JIT secretariat must be revealed who he said had prepared a “false report”.

The former premier termed the reference “a blessing in disguise” and said he was thankful to Allah because the truth “is finally emerging”.

The decision of the Supreme Court to disqualify him as a parliamentarian on the basis of an Iqama had already been proved wrong, he claimed.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2018