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ISLAMABAD: The prosecution of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday started final arguments in the Avenfield properties reference after the accountability court dismissed the application moved by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to defer further proceeding till closing of evidence in other two references.

Mr Sharif’s counsel Barrister Saad Hashmi said that his client would file an appeal against the order of accountability judge Mohammad Bashir before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday (today).

Earlier in the day, Mr Sharif had moved an application seeking the postponement of the final arguments in the Avenfield reference till the closing of the prosecution’s evidence in the other two cases — Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments references.

During the course of arguments, Barrister Hashmi had taken the stance that Wajid Zia was the only material witness and the JIT (joint investigation team) report was the only evidence that the prosecution had.

He said the other two references also involved the same evidence and witness; thus, the final arguments should be conducted once proceedings in all three references concluded.

The counsel added that if the court proceeded with the final arguments in the Avenfield reference, it would give the prosecution an opportunity to address gaps in the cases they made in the other two references — Al Azizia and Flagship Investment — which would seriously damage the defence’s case.

Barrister Hashmi said that the prosecution had created misconceptions and misled the court, leading it to fix the Avenfield reference for final arguments without closing of evidence in the other two references.

He said “the accountability court has consistently held that all three references will be decided simultaneously”.

He further stated before the court that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) while upholding the above-mentioned order of the accountability court held that the identical witnesses, where there was an apprehension of defence might be prejudice, might be testified all together.

Barrister Hashmi argued that although the accountability court had to conclude the cases against Mr Sharif and his family within a certain timeframe, the Supreme Court had also provided that a deadline should not be an excuse to compromise the due process of law.

NAB additional deputy prosecutor general Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, on the other hand, said that the prosecution was ready for final arguments, but the defence appeared to be avoiding and seeking arguments to postpone proceedings.

He said the accountability court had fixed the case for final arguments in the presence of counsel from both sides. But, he added, the defence seemed to be reluctant to argue their case and to conclude it in the interest of justice.

He requested the court to dismiss the application.

Final arguments

The prosecution has started final arguments. Mr Abbasi started from the revelations of the Panama Papers. He said the matter subsequently reached the Supreme Court and after the JIT submitted a report to the apex court, NAB was directed to file three references against the Sharif family.

He claimed that the prosecution had established its case beyond a shadow of a doubt and there was not an iota of evidence produced by the defence, adding that the defence needed to prove innocence now.

“The statement recorded under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) [of the accused persons] did not mention anything to contradict the prosecution evidence,” he said.

Likewise, he said, Maryam Nawaz and retired Captain Mohammad Safdar “did not produce any witness of trust deed”, in order to prove their stance.

The trust deed was declared as fake by the forensic expert Robert William Radley who had decades of experience in the forensic science, he added.

Threats to journalists

Before the start of the court proceeding, former prime minister Sharif during the informal conversation with reporters expressed concern over threats to journalists and said the relevant quarters should take notice of a article published in the New York Times . Other esteemed organisations like BBC and Reuters have also published such articles recently.

He said that such practice of threatening the media had become obsolete and it could not work anymore.

He said if the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz came into power, proper legislation would be made to protect media from pressures and the truth and reconciliation commission might also be established to ascertain misadventures in the past and that commission would also ensure fair play in future.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2018