IN a new twist to the accountability reference based on Panamagate, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar were released from Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail and flown back to Lahore on Wednesday night after the Islamabad High Court suspended their sentences till a decision on their appeals.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif along with Sardar Mehtab Abbasi and Murtaza Javed Abbasi, besides hundreds of jubilant party workers, received the PML-N supremo, his daughter and son-in-law outside Adiala jail before the trio were escorted to Benazir Bhutto International Airport for their onward journey to Lahore.
However, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) announced that it would challenge the IHC bench decision to accept the petitions of the Sharifs seeking suspension of their sentences and order their release on bail against the surety bond of Rs500,000 deposit.
• Bail granted in sum of Rs500,000 till decision on their appeals • NAB decides to challenge verdict before Supreme Court
Only two days ago, the ousted PM, his daughter and son-in-law were shifted back to Adiala jail as their five-day parole, which was granted to them on Sept 11 so that they could attend the funeral of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz at Raiwind, had ended. Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz were arrested on the night of July 13 on their arrival at Lahore airport from London and shifted to Adiala jail over a week after an accountability court convicted them in the Avenfield properties reference.
On receiving the release orders, according to sources, the former prime minister said: “I was sure that I was innocent and have not done any wrongdoing ... Allah will give me justice.” As the convoy left the jail, jubilant PML-N supporters showered rose petals on his vehicle and chanted slogans “Wazir-i-Azam Nawaz Sharif”, “Baoo Gee, I love you”.
While Mr Shahbaz soon after the pronouncement of the court decision tweeted: “Truth has come, falsehood has departed. Indeed is falsehood, [by nature] ever bound to depart”, ex-minister for railways Khawaja Saad Rafique tweeted: “Every democrat is thankful to the IHC bench for administering justice, the release of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz is the victory of truth and justice, we humbly bow our heads before Allah.”
In its short order, the IHC bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb stated: “For the reason to be recorded…the instant writ petition is allowed and sentence awarded to the petitioner by the accountability court, Islamabad, shall remain suspended till the final adjudication of the appeal filed by the petitioner. The petitioner shall be released on bail subject to furnishing bail bonds in the sum of Rs500,000 with one surety in like amount to the satisfaction of deputy registrar (judicial) of this court.”
As the courtroom was packed with party leaders including Mr Shahbaz, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Daniyal Aziz, Khurram Dastagir Khan, Mariyam Aurangzeb, Rana Sanaullah, Pervez Rashid, Ghaus Bakhsh Niazi, Chaudhry Tanvir Khan, Anjum Aqeel Khan, Barrister Zafarullah Khan, Mian Javed Latif, Fiazullah Shah, Sajjad Khan, Fazal Niazi and Saim Satti, Justice Minallah before announcing the decision ordered those present to maintain decorum after the announcement. However, as soon as he announced release of the ousted PM, his daughter and son-in-law, some activists inside courtroom chanted slogans “Wazir-i-Azam Nawaz Sharif”. On court’s annoyance, the PML-N leadership stopped them but by that time PML-N workers waiting outside the courtroom had learnt the decision and started chanting slogans in jubilation.
Earlier while concluding his arguments on the petition, NAB’s special prosecutor Mohammad Akram Qureshi argued that the money trail provided by the Sharifs to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was fake, as the UAE government had expressed ignorance about the transfer of 12 million dirhams to the Qatari family that the Sharif family claimed was the payment for Avenfield apartments.
When the court asked where the former premier or his daughter provided such details to NAB, the prosecutor replied it was shared with the JIT upon which Justice Aurangzeb remarked that the JIT and NAB were separate entities. The lead counsel for the Sharifs, Khawaja Haris, said none of his clients had ever taken the stance before any forum that the properties belonged to them or shared any document related to such money trail with the JIT. The NAB prosecutor said Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz had admitted to have possession of the flats since 1993 when they were minor, therefore, it was “presumed” that being father, Nawaz Sharif was the real owner. However, Justice Minallah remarked, “After a thorough investigation, NAB could not bring any evidence to establish Nawaz Sharif’s ownership of the London apartments and you want us to make such presumption as well.”
About Maryam’s conviction, Justice Aurangzeb reminded Advocate Qureshi that the accountability court lacked jurisdiction to proceed in matters related to forgery and bogus documentation.
“Why was the benefit of doubt not extended to the accused?” Justice Minallah asked, adding that legal parameters set for the burden of proof should be followed. Mr Qureshi argued that this case was unique in nature since the properties were abroad. When the court sought input from defence counsel Khawaja Haris, he told the bench that National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) specifically dealt with the subject of foreign assets, therefore, the stance of NAB’s prosecutor was without any legal force.
NAB to challenge IHC’s decision
According to an official handout released by NAB, a meeting presided over by NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal decided to file an appeal in the Supreme Court to challenge the IHC decision after receiving a certified copy of the detailed verdict.
Sources in NAB told Dawn that during the meeting, senior prosecutors explained to the NAB chairman reasons for being unable to pursue the case properly. Sources said some senior prosecutors blamed the prosecutor who pursued the Avenfield reference before the trial court.
In the reference, Judge Mohammad Bashir of the accountability court awarded 10-year imprisonment to ousted PM, seven-year imprisonment to Maryam Nawaz and one-year imprisonment to retired Captain Mohammad Safdar. At the time of conviction, the ex-PM and his daughter were in the UK, where his wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz was undergoing cancer treatment. They were arrested on their return to Lahore from London on July 13.
Hours after their release on Wednesday, they were flown back to Lahore airport where a large number of PML-N workers and leaders had turned up to welcome their leaders.
The jubilant workers showered their four-wheeler with petals and chanted slogans like ‘dekho dekho kon aya, sher aya sher aya’, ‘Mian sahib, I love you’. Nawaz Sharif, who was sitting on the front seat of a black SUV, being driven by his nephew and leader of the opposition in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz, waved at workers.
Lahore PML-N president Pervaiz Malik appealed to the party workers to give way to his motorcade but they were not ready to get aside. The convoy took quite some time to leave the airport road for Jati Umra.
Holding portraits of Nawaz Sharif and party flags outside his residence at Jati Umra, some workers requested him to say a few words but Mr Sharif did not oblige them reportedly owing to security reasons.
Earlier talking to reporters at the party’s Model Town office, where PML-N workers had distributed sweets and offered thanksgiving prayer, Mr Hamza said: “Today is a big day and we are happy that our leader is released from jail.” He said had Nawaz Sharif been released earlier he would have attended to his wife (Kulsoom) in her last days at hospital (in London). He said no corruption had been proved against the Sharifs in this case and they would fight the remaining cases.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018