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ISLAMABAD: The Islam­abad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday deferred the hearing of appeals filed by the Sharifs against their conviction in the Avenfield properties reference till after the July 25 general elections and issued notices to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the investigating officer.

The court also adjourned the hearing of their petitions seeking the transfer of Al Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment references against the former premier from the accountability court of Judge Mohammad Bashir to another court till July 30.

Nawaz Sharif’s party, however, said the IHC’s decision to put off his appeal against his conviction till after the elections was “continuation of injustice to the Sharif family”.

In the appeal, counsel Khawaja Haris argued that the prosecution must establish its case beyond a shadow of a doubt in order to shift the onus of proof to the accused but in the Avenfield properties reference the prosecution failed to establish its case.

IHC issues notices to NAB, others in London flats case; PML-N terms the move ‘continuation of injustice’

Referring to a 2007 judgement of the Sindh High Court passed in the Hakim Ali Zardari case, he explained that to establish its case the 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 the prosecution after thorough investigation and (d) such resources or property found in possession of the accused were disproportionate to his known sources of income.

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

Advocate Haris said Wajid Zia, who headed the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that probed the Panama Papers allegations, admitted that Mr Sharif’s children were not dependent on him. He said even for their pocket money, they were dependent on their grandfather, Mian Mohammad Sharif.

The counsel argued that the legal heirs like son or daughter could not be declared benamidar (fictitious owner), but in this case, the accountability court held that Mr Sharif owned the properties in the name of his son who was a benamidar.

The judge did not put any question to Mr Sharif whether Hussain or Hassan Nawaz were his dependents, he further informed the IHC.

When Justice Mohsin Kayani asked in whose name the title of property was registered, Advocate Haris replied that it was registered in the name of offshore companies Neilson and Nescoll Private Ltd. He added that there was not a single document in the name of Mr Sharif. “You mean to say the entire chain of evidence was missing?” the IHC judge asked.

“Yes, everything was mis­sing,” the counsel replied.

Regarding Nawaz’s speeches on the floor of the house and his address to the nation, Advocate Haris said the ex-premier never claimed the ownership of London apartments, as his information was based on hearsay. He added that those who had produced the recorded speeches did not certify the audio and visual content.

When Justice Kayani asked about the allegations against Maryam Nawaz, her counsel Amjad Pervaiz res­ponded that she was accu­sed of preparing trust deeds in Calibri font in February 2006 before the font was released commercially.

He said that the court formed its opinion against Maryam on the basis of forensic expert Robert Radley’s report that according to the law of evidence (Qanoon-i-Shahadat) was weak evidence.

Advocate Pervaiz insisted that the font was available in 2005 prior to the preparation of the trust deeds and even Radley was also using this font before its commercial launch.

When the bench asked about retired Capt Mohammad Safdar’s crime, Pervaiz said he was allegedly the signatory of the trust deeds.

The counsel asserted that in the 174-page verdict Safdar was mentioned in just one single line where the judge sentenced him one year imprisonment.

Transfer of case

Regarding the transfer of references from Judge Mohammad Bashir to another judge, Advocate Haris argued that Judge Bashir discarded the money trail based on sale proceeds of Gulf Steel Mills. Since the pending references were also based on the same money trail, the judge might discard the trail again, he added.

About Judge Bashir’s decision to recuse himself from the remaining two references against the Sharifs, Justice Kayani remarked that the matter would be dealt with administratively. Advocate Haris then urged the court to transfer Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment references to the judge of another accountability as 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.

The appeal seeking transfer of references maintained that the accountability court in July 6 judgement “has given its findings in respect of (i) status and relevancy of the JIT report, (ii) pleading of the co-accused ...(iii) interviews of co-accused and their impact and relevancy (iv) appellant’s address to the nation on April 5, 2016 and his speech given on the floor of the National Assembly on May 16, 2016, (v) all assertions relating to Gulf Steel Mills and Qatar.”

The court adjourned the hearing on the petitions seeking transfer of Al Azizia and Flagship references from the accountability court of Judge Bashir to another accountability court until July 30.

On July 6, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison for holding assets beyond known sources of income. His daughter, Maryam, was given seven years sentence for aiding and abetting him while her husband retired Capt Safdar was sentenced to one year imprisonment.

‘Continuation of injustice’

Later addressing a press conference, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “The way Nawaz Sharif’s request to defer the decision in Avenfield properties reference by the accountability court was rejected outright, why not the same urgency was shown in the case of Mr Sharif and Maryam Nawaz’s appeal. Deferring the case [hearing of their appeal] till July 30 is a continuation of injustice to the Sharif family. But the people’s verdict is coming on July 25 that will end the tradition of disrespecting their mandate.”

The former information minister asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to take notice of pre-poll rigging and ensure holding of free, fair and transparent elections. She said the former premier was sent to jail for talking about civilian supremacy.

Even during the regime of military dictators, terror cases had not been instituted against political workers, she said. “Just before the elections, registration of terrorism cases against PML-N leaders and workers is unlawful and an attempt to make polls controversial,” she said, adding that the PML-N nominated leaders would not seek bail (in the terrorism cases).

The lawyers’ forum of the party would, however, file a reply in this regard in the high court, she declared. She said cases against 16,868 PML-N workers had been registered in Punjab while only 39 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf workers had been booked.

Ms Auranzeb said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had imposed a ban on PML-N publicity campaign but was ignoring the indecent language Imran Khan was using. She said the people would come out of their homes on July 25 to vote for the PML-N.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2018