Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar challenged their convictions by an accountability court in the Avenfield corruption reference in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday.
The court on July 6 had sentenced Nawaz to 10 years in prison for owning assets beyond known income, along with a fine of £8 million. Maryam was given seven years of jail time and slapped with a fine of £2 million, as the court found her guilty of being "instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father". Capt Safdar was handed one year in jail for failure to cooperate with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and for aiding and abetting Nawaz and Maryam.
Seven separate appeals were filed by the three convicts' lawyers ─ three on behalf of Nawaz, and two each on behalf of Maryam and Safdar ─ pertaining to the corruption references against them.
Advocate Khawaja Haris filed the appeals on behalf of Nawaz; one urging the IHC to set aside the accountability court's verdict in the Avenfield reference, another to suspend the said verdict until the IHC adjudicated on the main appeals, and a third requesting the court to transfer the Al-Azizia and Flagship corruption references against Nawaz from the court of accountability judge Mohammad Bashir to another accountability court in Islamabad.
Amjad Pervaiz filed two appeals each on behalf of Maryam and Safdar. One of the petitions urged the IHC to set aside the accountability court's verdict in the Avenfield corruption reference, while the second requested the suspension of the NAB court's verdict until the IHC adjudicates on the appeals.
The appeals stated that accountability judge Mohammad Bashir had passed the Avenfield verdict on the basis of presumptions and assumptions, without fulfilling the "requirements of justice".
They argued that until the IHC adjudicates on the appeals against the accountability court's decision, the convicts should be released on bail.
They claimed that the chart of the Sharif family’s assets and liabilities as their "known sources of income", which was produced in the accountability court, was not submitted by the head of the Panama Papers case joint investigation team ─ who was NAB's star witness ─ and did not bear the signatures of any officials either.
Khawaja Haris, in an appeal filed on behalf of Nawaz, pointed out that NAB had declared the Avenfield flats were worth more than the former premier's known income, but had failed to take into account the value of the flats at the time of their purchase.
One of the appeals added that the prosecution had provided no evidence establishing Nawaz as the owner of the London flats.
The appeals also referred to the contentious use of Calibri font in the trust deed, saying that forensic expert Robert Radley had admitted that the font had been in existence at the time the trust deed was prepared.
Referring to the use of Calibri font in the trust deeds submitted by Maryam to the joint investigation team (JIT) during the Panama Papers case investigation, one of the appeals argued that the creator of the font, Robert Radley, had admitted that the font had existed at the time when the deeds were prepared.
Khawaja Haris urged the court to transfer the two remaining corruption references against Nawaz — Flagship Enterprises and Al Azizia — to another accountability judge since the arguments in both cases were similar to the ones in the Avenfield reference. Nawaz's counsel argued that since the evidence in both the cases was similar, the verdict may be the same if heard by the same judge.
He had earlier requested judge Mohammad Bashir to recuse himself from the case for the same reasons and the latter had agreed to refer the matter to the IHC. If Haris' arguments are deemed valid, the case will be transferred to another judge, as the IHC holds the authority to transfer cases to another court.
The petitioners observed that the court had announced the verdict in absentia, even though the Sharifs had appealed to the court to delay the judgement for seven days.
At the time of the verdict, both Nawaz and Maryam were in London where Kulsoom Nawaz, who is battling cancer, is reportedly on life support. Safdar was in Pakistan but was not present in court.
PPP, PML-N agreed to 'bury the past', reminds Rasheed
Talking to the media about the Avenfield verdict today, PML-N leader Pervaiz Rasheed repeated his party's stance that the court had not been able to prove any corruption charges against the Sharif family.
He also referred to the Charter of Democracy, that was signed in 2005 between slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and then PML-N president Nawaz, saying that it was agreed that both parties will "bury the past and not bring it up again".
"PML-N stands by its word," he added.
Rashid's statement comes at a time when PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari is under fire for his alleged involvement in suspicious financial transactions worth Rs35bn through 29 'benami' accounts. However, the probe against him has been postponed until after the general elections.