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• Verdict in Avenfield reference to be issued on 6th
• If convicted, Maryam won’t be able to contest election
• Nawaz not afraid of going to jail, says PML-N information secretary

ISLAMABAD: The acco­untability court of Islamabad will announce its judgement in the Avenfield properties reference against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar on Friday.

The case is based on the petitions Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and other politicians had filed in the Supreme Court in the wake of disclosures made in the Panama Papers.

The Supreme Court in its July 28, 2017 verdict has already disqualified Mr Sharif from holding a public office for life. In case of conviction, Ms Maryam will also be disqualified and she will no longer be able to contest coming general elections, at least for the time being, until the judgement is suspended or set aside by the high court.

A convict is disqualified once his/her conviction attains finality by the Supreme Court.

Mr Sharif and his daughter have been in the United Kingdom since June 14 due to ailment of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz and it is not clear whether they will appear in court on Friday.

The Supreme Court on July 28 last year had removed Mr Sharif from the Prime Minister Office and directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file three references against him and his children.

Besides Mr Sharif, Ms Maryam and Capt Safdar, NAB had also nominated Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz, the sons of Nawaz Sharif, as accused in the three references.

The apex court had directed the accountability court to conclude proceedings in six months.

The proceedings in the Avenfield reference commenced in September last year and the accountability court indicted Mr Sharif, Ms Maryam and Captain Safdar on Oct 19, 2017.

As per the charge-sheet, the accountability court indicted the accused under Section 9 (a) (IV) of the National Accountability Ordinance that says, “if he [the accused] by corrupt dishonest, or illegal means, obtains or seeks to obtain for himself, or for his spouse and/or dependents or any other person, any property, valuable thing, or pecuniary advantage” and Section 9 (a) (V) which says, “if he or any of his dependents or benamidars owns, possesses, or has any right or title in any movable or immovable property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, which he cannot reasonably accounts for.”

“A person who commits the offence of corruption and corrupt practices shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 14 years, or with fine, or with both”.

Since the judge has fixed July 6 for announcement of judgement, he directed the accused to ensure their attendance on the date. However, sources in the accountability court said that Judge Mohammad Bashir will write the judgement on Thursday (tomorrow), therefore, the accused might not need to get exemption from personal appearance for Thursday and Friday and the verdict may be announced in their absence.

According to the sources in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), a majority of party leaders have advised Mr Sharif not to come to Pakistan and stay in the UK till announcement of judgement.

However, PML-N Information Secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan said Mr Sharif was ready to face any decision of the accountability court. He said the former PM was not afraid of going to jail and he would certainly return to Pakistan.

He said since Kulsoom Nawaz was in critical condition, the return of Mr Sharif and his daughter was linked with the doctors’ advice.

Final arguments

Earlier, presenting his final arguments, Advocate Amjad Pervaiz, counsel for Ms Maryam and retired Capt Safdar, said JIT head Wajid Zia had hired his cousin Akhtar Riaz Raja, a UK-based solicitor, in the Panama Papers case, which was a classic example of nepotism.

Mr Pervaiz said the Supreme Court in its May 5, 2017 order had empowered the JIT to engage experts but the JIT had hired a solicitor.

He said Mr Raja took legal privilege when asked to disclose his fee but in his own communication on behalf of the JIT, he had asked a fellow solicitor in UK how much fee he charged from Hussain Nawaz.

The counsel said Mr Raja did only three things for the JIT – sent an email to a solicitor, Jeremy Freeman, engaged forensic expert Robert Radley and authored a commentary for the JIT.

He argued that there was nothing on record why a solicitor’s services were required to send an email and there was no plausible explanation why Mr Radley could not be engaged directly or through the Foreign Office.

Mr Pervaiz said Mr Raja did not have any personal knowledge of the events and his commentary was merely an opinion.

The counsel argued that Mr Raja’s CV was not on record to show what kind of expert he was and how many times he had been engaged in any high-profile or important case before being hired in Panama Papers case.

Concluding his case, Mr Pervaiz said the JIT had deliberately ignored the witnesses such as the management of Minerva that was the registered director of Nielson and Nescol offshore companies which owned the Avenfield apartments.

He claimed that the government of British Virgin Island had rejected the request for mutual legal assistance sent by the JIT to seek information regarding the London apartments but the investigation team had concealed this information in the JIT report.

He argued that the evidence brought on the court record was “third-hand” evidence since these were old documents and were already available even before the existence of the JIT.

He further argued that the prosecution had miserably failed to bring “an iota of evidence to substantiate whether Maryam Nawaz or retired Capt Safdar were beneficial owner of the London apartments.”

When Mr Pervaiz concluded the arguments, the judge Mohammad Bashir without wasting even a second announced the date for issuing the verdict in the Avenfield reference.

Earlier, advocate Khawaja Haris, counsel for Nawaz Sharif, referred to a 2007 judgement of the Sindh High Court passed in Hakim Ali Zardari case and argued that in cases under Section 9(a)(v) of the NAB Ordinance, 1999, prosecution was required to prove four ingredients – (a) the accused was holder of public office, (b) nature and extent of pecuniary resources or property which were found in his possession, (c) what were his known sources of income i.e known to prosecution after thorough investigation and (d) such resources or property found in possession of accused were disproportionate to his known sources of income – to prove its case.

“There is no burden of proof on accused when prosecution could not prove these four ingredients” he insisted.

Khawaja Haris said JIT head Zia had admitted that Mr Sharif’s children were not dependent on him instead they were dependent on their grandfather, Mian Mohammad Sharif, even for their pocket money.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2018