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ISLAMABAD: Justice Athar Minallah of the Islamabad High Court remarked on Wednesday that the court had not come across any evidence that showed Nawaz Sharif was the owner of Avenfield properties as Khawaja Haris, representing the former prime minister, concluded his arguments.

National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) special prosecutor Mohammad Akram Qureshi, however, informed the court that the defence counsel had presented one side of the story and he would present the complete picture.

The IHC division bench comprising Justice Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb resumed hearing of the petitions seeking suspension of sentence awarded to Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield properties reference.

NAB prosecutor says defence counsel have presented one side of the story

Accountability judge Mohammad Bashir had convicted the Sharif family of owning the London flats which, according to his judgement, were beyond their known sources of income.

During the course of arguments, counsel for the Sharifs Khawaja Haris pointed out that the superior judiciary had set certain benchmarks in living beyond means cases and according to which the onus of proof could only be shifted to the accused after the prosecution established its case beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of four aspects related to the quantification and evaluation of the property and income as well as misuse of official authority while holding public office.

Khawaja Haris said the entire set of documents produced before the trial court pertaining to the ownership of the London flats didn’t mention the price of the flats. In addition, he said, the documents obtained from the Financial Investigation Agency (FIA) of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) did not say anything about purchase price.

He claimed that the accountability judge referred to this principle in his judgement issued on July 6, 2018, but declared Mr Sharif as owner of the flats on the basis of his own assumptions. Throughout the entire case, none of the witnesses, except the investigation officer of the Avenfield reference, testified during the trial that Mr Sharif was actual owner of these flats, Mr Haris added.

Justice Minallah asked if a criminal conviction could be based on presumption and if such a conviction could sustain as well.

The questions the court asked NAB’s special prosecutor Akram Qureshi to argue over purchase price of the London flats included who made the analysis of income and assets chart which purports to show income, assets, tax and wealth of the jailed former prime minister, how Mr Sharif was connected with the properties and how Section 9(a)(5) [assets beyond means] of the NAB Ordinance applied to Maryam Nawaz.

Justice Aurangzeb recalled that head of the Panamagate Joint Investigation Team (JIT) Wajid Zia had once said the price was mentioned somewhere but, apparently, that document(s) is/are not on record. He then asked what consequences it would have.

Khawaja Haris said: “How can it be proved that assets are disproportionate to income without the price.” He added that price and quantification were not there and this was not the case where there was some dispute on calculations. Also, he said, the case was not made out if the properties purchased were not disproportionate to the known sources of income.

Moreover, he argued, the court would have to see if there was any document as mentioned by Wajid Zia and whether it was produced before the trial court or not. At the moment, he said, documents of ownership and statements of witnesses did not reveal the price of the flats.

When Justice Minallah asked if there was any document that showed any connection of Mr Sharif with the properties, Khawaja Haris said “no connection at all”, adding that only one witness — investigation officer — said that Mr Sharif was the owner, but during the cross-examination, he admitted that no witness told him so.

“So far we didn’t come across any evidence that shows Nawaz Sharif was the owner of Avenfield properties,” remarked Justice Minallah.

NAB prosecutor Qureshi said the court had heard a one-sided story so far and he would explain the other side on his turn.

The defence counsel replied in the negative when the court asked if any dependent had earlier been punished in other cases. He also informed the court that charge was different from the conviction.

Justice Aurangzeb remarked that the way accountability judge Mohammad Bashir discussed the Qatari letters when Mr Sharif, Ms Maryam and Capt Safdar had not produced them in their defence before the trial court.

The NAB prosecutor said these were produced before the Supreme Court.

The judge remarked that the trial had to be independent and not influenced by the Supreme Court’s proceedings.

Amjad Pervaiz, the counsel for Maryam Nawaz, argued that his client had been convicted on the basis of trust deeds only and there was not an iota of evidence against her under section 9(a)(5). He said the court had treated Ms Maryam as dependent, but she was not asked any question in this regard under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code, adding that no document was on record how Ms Maryam helped in accumulation of assets.

He concluded his arguments by asking how a document of the year 2006 could be placed with the London flats’ purchasing documents pertaining to the years 1993, 1995 and 1996. “There is a single sentence about Capt Safdar and that too about his sentence in the entire judgement, nothing else,” Mr Pervaiz said.

“Maryam’s role would come only when Nawaz Sharif’s connection with the assets is proved,” Justice Minallah observed.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2018