ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif on Thursday said that in the next general election his party would be contesting against the ‘aliens’ instead of rival political parties.

Talking to journalists during his appearance before the accountability court in the Avenfield properties reference, the former prime minister said the PML-N would not be contesting the elections against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but against ‘invisible force’ or khalai makhlooq.

Keeping his cards close to his chest, Mr Sharif said he would soon disclose secrets about the 2014 sit-in — which was jointly organised by the PTI and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek at D-Chowk, Islamabad. He said he was privy to certain developments about the sit-in and the facts regarding it would be made public in near future.

“There are lots of hidden secrets about the 2014 sit-in, but I wish things would come on track before revelations,” Mr Sharif said.

NAB investigation officer admits no direct evidence to prove ex-PM is owner of London apartments

Referring to the pillars of a state — legislature, executive, judiciary and media — he said one pillar had encroached upon other two pillars of the state at the moment.

“Where is the writ of the government and parliament today?” he asked and made it clear that it was not an era of the Mughal kings where a single hand could control everything.

Referring to World Press Freedom Day, Mr Sharif said the world was moving towards press freedom and promoting more freedom, but in Pakistan restrictions had been imposed on press freedom. “Such bans and restrictions were not imposed even during the dictatorial regimes that we are witnessing today,” he said, adding that everyone knew where these instructions were coming from.

“It’s unfortunate that media and press freedom are subjected to restrictions and being strangled just because they want to silence Nawaz Sharif.”

The former prime minister said democracy and the press in the country were being “strangled by unknown forces” and they were busy working for a parliament that suited them.

He said the founders of Pakistan would have never thought that the country would be ruled with anything else than the Constitution and law would be replaced by lawlessness, rule of law would end and freedom of speech, fundamental rights and civil liberties would be curbed.

“But it’s all happening today. Have you ever heard or seen any such thing in any democracy of the world? Look at other countries and compare our country with them — believe me, it makes one hang one’s head in shame,” he added.

He claimed that economic progress had been sabotaged following the July 28, 2017 judgement of the Supreme Court, adding that the local currency had been devalued and foreign exchange reserves had declined manifold.

Court proceedings

The investigation officer (IO) of the National Accountability Bureau in the Avenfield properties reference admitted during a cross-examination that NAB had not collected any direct evidence to prove Nawaz Sharif’s ownership of the London apartments.

IO Mohammad Imran, the last prosecution witness in the reference, however, said that some witnesses, including Sidra Mansoor of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Mazhar Khan Bangash and Mohammad Rashid indirectly linked Mr Sharif with these properties.

At this, lead defence counsel Khawaja Haris perused the statements of the witnesses and pointed out Sidra Mansoor had submitted audit reports of Hudaibia Mills only and the other two witnesses never said anything about Park Lane flats, which the accused accepted as correct.

The IO also admitted that no document of title had been collected by the investigators that showed that Mr Sharif was owner of any of the London flats. He said that no document collected from the Financial Investigation Agency (FIA) of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) showed that Mr Sharif was either real or beneficial owner of the Avenfield apartments or had been registered director, nominee director shareholder or nominee shareholder of offshore companies Nielson and Nescoll.

The IO said that during his two-day visit to the United Kingdom, he only recorded statements of Akhtar Riaz Raja, the first cousin of Joint Investigation Team head Wajid Zia. The JIT had hired Mr Raja for forensic audit of the documents as well as forensic expert Robert Radley.

Mr Imran conceded that the statements of solicitor Jeremy Freeman, who was a signatory to the trust deeds signed by Maryam Nawaz and retired Captain Safdar, and Lawrence Radley, who was privy to the sale/purchase of Avenfield apartments, had not been recorded since both the witnesses were ‘irrelevant’.

Khawaja Haris argued that both the witnesses were vital because they had supported the stance taken by the Sharif family.

Interestingly, when the defence counsel asked how many witnesses summoned by the JIT during a couple of months of investigation had appeared as prosecution witness, the NAB IO said none of them had been included in the witnesses list.

He said the JIT had recorded the statements of 18 witnesses, including five accused — Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam, sons Hassan and Hussain and son-in-law Capt Safdar.

The JIT witnesses were: Shahbaz Sharif, Tariq Shafi, Javed Kayani, Saeed Ahmed, Syed Amjad, Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, Rehman Malik, Mr Basharat, Mr Afaq, Maheen Fatima, Abid Hussain, Ishaq Dar and journalist Umar Cheema.

The accountability court adjourned the proceeding to Friday (today).

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2018