Convictions handed in Avenfield verdict may not be sustainable: IHC's 'tentative' opinion

Published October 3, 2018
Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam Nawaz. — File
Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam Nawaz. — File

A two-member Islamabad High Court (IHC) bench — in its detailed judgement released on Wednesday regarding the bail granted to Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar — has found that the conviction and sentences handed to the former prime minister and others in the Avenfield corruption reference "may not be ultimately sustainable".

However, the verdict — authored by Justice Athar Minallah — immediately added that the observation was based on a "prima facie, tentative opinion" that the bench formed after a "plain reading of the [Avenfield] Judgment and tentative assessment of evidence permissible while considering a case for suspension of sentence in terms of section 426 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure)".

Explore: How one of Pakistan's most controversial cases has unfolded

The bench, comprising Justice Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, had granted bail to Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar last month, after which they were released from Adiala jail where they were serving sentences awarded to them by an accountability court.

The detailed judgement points to the fact that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was unable to prove the corruption charges, saying: "The petitioners were alleged to have acquired Avenfield Apartments by corrupt, dishonest or illegal means." Yet, the accountability court in its judgment held that "Prosecution have not brought evidence in respect of [section9(a)(iv) NAO, 1999][4]. So the accused are acquitted under that section of law”.

"The bureau, in its wisdom, has not challenged the said acquittal," observes the IHC.

"There is yet another important question which has been raised by the learned counsel for Nawaz Sharif to the effect that there has been no determination of the value of the Avenfield Apartments at the time when they were alleged to have been acquired," reads the judgement, adding: "There is no mention of this aspect in the judgment."

The bench notes that when the judges asked the bureau regarding the value, they stated "values could be obtained through 'Google'".

"This answer was not expected from learned counsels who have enviable professional experience and competence," writes Justice Minallah.

The verdict also pointed out that though the prosecution had told the accountability court that Maryam was her father's dependent, the accountability court's judgement did not "refer to any evidence which would connect Petitioner No. 2 (Maryam) to have aided, assisted or conspired with Petitioner No. 1 (Nawaz) at the time when Avenfield Apartments were said to have been acquired between 1993 and 1996".

Regarding Sadfar's conviction, the bench noted that he had been convicted for lack of cooperation. However, the verdict declared that "the convictions of both these Petitioners [Maryam and Safdar] depend on whether the conviction handed down to Petitioner No. 1 would remain sustainable under the Ordinance of 1999".

The accountability court on July 6 had announced the verdict in the Avenfield properties corruption reference filed by NAB, handing Nawaz 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and 1 year for not cooperating with the bureau.

His daughter was given seven years for abetment after she was found "instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father" and one year for non-cooperation with the bureau.

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