An accountability court on Monday handed ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference, but acquitted him in a second reference related to Flagship Investments.
The court also fined Nawaz Rs1.5 billion and US $25 million in the Al-Azizia reference.
A disqualification of 10 years from holding any public office is part of the sentences awarded to the former premier. The disqualification will go into effect following his release from jail after serving the seven-year sentence.
Following the judgement, Nawaz was taken into custody from the courtroom. His lawyer Khawaja Haris requested the judge that the PML-N quaid be shifted to Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Central Jail instead of Adiala jail. The court, after reserving its verdict on the request, agreed but said he would be sent to Adiala today and to Kot Lakhpat tomorrow (Tuesday).
Armoured vehicles standing by outside the premises transported the former three-time prime minister to Adiala prison. They left the judicial complex at 4:45pm.
Nawaz will travel from Rawalpindi to Lahore in his personal bulletproof vehicle and will be accompanied by a judicial magistrate. He has asked Hamza Shahbaz to reach Adiala jail with the car at 10am.
- Nawaz handed 7 years in jail in Al-Azizia reference
- Fined Rs1.5 billion, US $25 million
- No case against Nawaz in Flagship reference
The verdict ─ initially expected between 9am to 10am ─ was announced almost immediately after Nawaz arrived in the courtroom close to 2:45pm.
Accountability Judge Arshad Malik, while reading out the short order, said that Nawaz was indicted in the Al-Azizia reference under Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
Section 9(a)(v) says: "A holder of a public office, or any other person, is said to commit or to have committed the offence of corruption and corrupt practices if he or any of his dependents or benamidar owns, possesses, or has acquired right or title in any assets or holds irrevocable power of attorney in respect of any assets or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, which he cannot reasonably account for, or maintains a standard of living beyond that which is commensurate with his sources of income."
The short order said that the burden of proof lies on Nawaz in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case.
The former premier, however, was acquitted in the Flagship Investments reference. Judge Arshad Malik while reading out the short order said there was no case against Nawaz in the Flagship reference. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) announced that it would appeal against the verdict.
Al-Azizia reference: detailed judgement
The reference pertains to the Sharifs being unable to justify the source of the funds provided to set up Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment (HME) in Saudi Arabia, making this a case of owning assets beyond means.
According to the 131-page detailed judgement of the case, the court ordered that all assets, properties, rights, receivables and interests of and in Hill Metal Establishment "stand forfeited to the federal government, which shall forthwith approach the Government of KSA [Saudi Arabia], so as to implement and give effect to the said forfeiture".
"The known and declared sources of income of the Accused No. 1 (Nawaz Sharif) and practically of also his two sons [...] are patently and grossly disproportionate to the reasonable (bare minimum) cost of setting up [Al-Azizia Steel Company Limited and Hill Metal Establishment]," reads the judgement.
The judgement also notes that Hussain Nawaz — the self-claimed sole proprietor of HME — "could have deposed on oath to [...] furnish and place on record money trail so as to dislodge the presumption against Nawaz Sharif. But significantly, he has opted not to appear".
Giving further reasoning for the applicability of Section 14(C) of the National Accountability Ordinance, the court concluded that Nawaz Sharif "intentionally, willfully and as a stratagem avoided appearing before the Investigation Officer ... so as to avoid having to respond to questions with regard to the issues which are now the subject matter of this reference and avoid being confronted with the glaring absence of money trail, documentary evidence and material divergence, gaps, and inconsistencies in the version of the accused [Nawaz]".
While concluding that Nawaz was guilty of holding assets beyond known sources of income, the judge wrote: "The prosecution has successfully established all the ingredients of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices against [...] Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif [...] as per the charge framed for holding and being the true and real beneficial owner of the assets [Al-Azizia Steel Mills], HME and related remittances, beyond his known sources of income as he failed to establish [the] contrary thereto."
The court also ordered that perpetual non-bailable arrest warrants be issued against Nawaz's sons, Hussain and Hassan, who had already been declared proclaimed offenders for absconding from the trial. The file of the reference along with all of its documents, evidence and material will be kept intact until Hassan and Hussain either appear before the court or are arrested to face the trial.
Read the full judgement:
Lead-up to verdict
PML-N workers started gathering outside the court to show their support for the party's supreme leader as early as 7:30am.
PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal, spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and veteran politician Javed Hashmi arrived at court and were permitted to enter the premises. Other leaders, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, were not allowed to enter.
Nawaz, who arrived in Islamabad from Lahore on Sunday, visited a farmhouse this morning where he offered sadqa and held a meeting with senior party leaders, DawnNewsTV reported, citing sources.
He reached the Federal Judicial Complex a little after 2:15pm, after which PML-N supporters gathered outside the premises began pelting stones and tried to force their way into the court complex, DawnNewsTV reported. Police retaliated with tear gas shelling and baton-charging the supporters.
Security was beefed up around the judicial complex, with heavy contingents of police and Rangers deployed around the building and along roads leading to the court.
Although Section 144 has been imposed in the capital, the Islamabad and Rawalpindi administrations decided that there would be no blockade at the entry points of the capital, and security officials would only ensure strict checking.
Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments
Accountability Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik on Dec 19 had reserved judgement in both the references filed by NAB against the former premier.
The two references concern the setting up of the Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment in the United Kingdom. The accountability court charged Nawaz in both references under Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
According to NAB's special prosecutor, the case against the Sharifs revolved around finding out how the family’s companies were established and through which resources.
According to a plea by the Sharif family in court, the late Mian Mohammad Sharif, [Nawaz Sharif's father] established Gulf Steel Mills (GSM) in the UAE in 1974.
Seventy-five per cent shares of GSM were sold to Abdullah Kayed Ahli and the entity was re-named Ahli Steel Mills (ASM) in 1978 and the remaining 25pc shares were further sold to the ASM in 1980. This yielded an amount of AED 12 million which was invested with the Qatari royal family.
While the Sharifs were in exile, the late Mian Sharif had provided AED 5.4m for Hussain Nawaz and AED 4.2m for Hasan Nawaz to establish Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment and 16 other companies in the UK.
According to the prosecution, the Sharif family failed to justify the source of the funds provided to set up the firms, making this a case of owning assets beyond means.
The Sharif family took the stance that it was out of the AED 12m that the late Mian Sharif invested with the Qatari royal family. Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, however, did not appear before the joint investigation team (JIT) to verify the details, said the prosecution.
During the final arguments, the defence attorney maintained that the JIT made no serious effort to record the prince’s testimony, since this would have benefited the defence's case.
Another 'guilty' verdict for Nawaz
On July 28, 2017, the Supreme Court verdict had, besides disqualifying then prime minister Nawaz from his position, also directed the accountability authority to file three references – regarding the family's Avenfield Properties, Al-Azizia, and Flagship Investment – before the accountability court.
In September 2017, NAB filed three references against members of the Sharif family.
On July 6 this year, Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir handed down convictions to Nawaz, Maryam, and son-in-law Capt Mohammad Safdar (retd) in the Avenfield Properties reference and jailed them for 10 years, seven years and one year respectively.
But on Sept 19, the Islamabad High Court granted all three bail after suspending their sentences. NAB’s appeal against the suspension of the sentence remains pending before the SC.
Since September 2017, Nawaz has appeared before the accountability courts some 165 times, according to the former premier himself.