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Sharifs’ trial ends, tribulations begin

Updated July 07, 2018

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LONDON: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif arrives at his office on Friday to address a news conference after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison by an accountability court in Islamabad.—AFP
LONDON: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif arrives at his office on Friday to address a news conference after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison by an accountability court in Islamabad.—AFP

• Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar found guilty in Avenfield property case
• Nawaz gets 10 years, Maryam seven years, her spouse one year imprisonment
• Nawaz vows to return, but doesn’t say when

ISLAMABAD: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif was awarded 10 years in prison by an accountability court in the Avenfield properties reference on Friday, while his daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband Mohammad Safdar were sentenced to seven years’ and one-year imprisonment, respectively, for abetment, dealing a severe blow to the PML-N only a few weeks before the general elections.

Judge Mohammad Bashir of the accountability court also ordered forfeiture of their property in the Avenfield Apartments, Park Lane, London and imposed £8 million (approx Rs1,292m) fine on Nawaz Sharif and £2 million (approx Rs323m) on Maryam Nawaz. The money will go into the state treasury.

In London, Mr Sharif told reporters that he would return to Pakistan once his ailing wife regained consciousness.

Read: 'I am coming to Pakistan to face prison,' says defiant Nawaz after conviction

The three convicts were also given one-year jail term, which will run concurrently, for not cooperating with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) during the probe into the case.

In the light of this verdict, both Maryam and her spouse cannot contest elections, while Mr Sharif has already been disqualified for life by the Supreme Court in Panamagate case.

The accountability court order read: “The accused shall be disqualified to contest the elections or to hold public office for a period of 10 years to be reckoned from the date he/she is released after serving the sentence and they shall not be allowed to apply for or to be granted or allowed any financial facility in for of loan etc for a period of 10 years from the date of their conviction.”

The court, however, acquitted the ex-premier, his daughter and son-in-law of the charge of corrupt practices. According to the judgement, the prosecution have not brought evidence in respect of Section 9(a)(iv) of National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, which is related to corrupt practices.

Related: We asked the creator of Calibri to weigh in on the JIT debate

Under Section 9(a)(v) of the NAO about owning assets disproportionate to known source of income, the court declared that the prosecution shifted the burden of proof on the accused persons. The defence side was required to provide evidence that the Avenfield apartments were not disproportionate to the known sources of their income. The verdict says: “In the above mentioned circumstances, the prosecution has succeeded to bring home the guilt of the accused.”

NAB had filed the reference regarding the high-end properties in London, along with two other cases, on the Supreme Court’s directives in the Panamagate verdict that deseated Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister last year.

Besides Nawaz and Maryam, his two sons Hassan and Hussain, who were also accused in the Avenfield property case, are in London.

However, retired captain Safdar, who is in Pakistan, also did not come to the accountability court to face the verdict on Friday.

NAB will wait for the convicts to surrender

NAB will now wait for a certain period of time for all the three convicts to surrender. If they fail to do so, the bureau will initiate the process to bring Nawaz and Maryam back, and arrest Safdar, according to the special prosecutor, Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi.

Soon after the verdict, Maryam tweeted: “This is a very small punishment for firmly standing in front of unseen forces. The morale to fight against oppression has increased today.”

Earlier in the morning, the court rejected an application filed by the defence counsel seeking a seven-day postponement in the verdict.

Analysis: What next for Nawaz Sharif?

Opposing the application for the postponement of the verdict filed by the defence counsel, NAB counsel Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said: “At a stage when the court concludes the trial and fixes a date for the final announcement, the accused cannot file application for any relief.”

The defence counsel, Amjad Pervez, argued: “There is a legal requirement that the accused person should be summoned at the time of announcement of judgement, and in this case Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz both are ready to attend proceedings, but because of Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness, they requested that the judgement be postponed for a few days.”

The verdict, which was scheduled for Friday morning, was delayed five times before being finally pronounced after 4:30pm.

The atmosphere outside the court in Islamabad, where the fate of the Sharif family members was announced, was thick with tension and buzzing with media and security personnel. Both the capital police force and Rangers were deployed in riot gear outside the court.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018