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Nawaz braces for another tryst with prison

Updated December 25, 2018

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FORMER prime minister Nawaz Sharif leaves the farmhouse of ex-senator Abbas Afridi in Islamabad for the accountability court on Monday.—White Star
FORMER prime minister Nawaz Sharif leaves the farmhouse of ex-senator Abbas Afridi in Islamabad for the accountability court on Monday.—White Star

• Convicted in one case, acquitted in another
• Sentenced to seven years in jail along with fine of $25m, Rs1.5bn
• Confiscation of Hill Metal assets ordered
• Warrants out for sons
• Ex-PM says conscience is clear

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sent back to jail after being sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for seven years along with a fine of Rs1.5 billion and $25 million in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills/ Hill Metal Establishment reference, while he was acquitted in the Flagship Investment reference on Monday.

Besides, the accountability court barred him from holding public office for 10 years after completing the sentence, ordered confiscation of Hill Metal Establishment and issued perpetual warrants of arrest for his sons, Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz.

This was second conviction of the ex-premier this year, as he had been awarded 10 years imprisonment in the Avenfield Apartments reference in July.

Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik of the accountability court, who was supposed to announce the judgement at 10am, however, took another five hours to convene the court and announce the decision in the Al-Azizia and Flagship references.

While pronouncing the judgement, the judge said: “There are two references against Nawaz Sharif — reference No 18 [Flagship Investment] and 19 [Al-Azizia] — I found nothing against the accused in reference No 18 and acquitted him from the charge.” However, the judge declared that there was sufficient evidence that connected him with the offence and shifts the onus on him in the Al-Azizia reference, as “the accused has failed to discharge burden of proof, therefore, I convicted him under Section 9(a) (5) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999”.

The section said if an accused 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 judgement said: “The court is satisfied that the prosecution case in available evidence against the accused [Nawaz Sharif] is sufficient to shift the onus to him as contemplated and provided in Section 14-C of the Ordinance.

“It is evident that the accused has been manifestly unable to provide a reasonable explanation with regard to the source of funds utilized for establishing ASCL and HME and the related remittances rather as a stratagem, a false, unsubstantiated and fabricated version were advanced…the accused persons have withheld the best available evidence original bank statements and related money trail funds showing inflow and outflow and other relevant original documentary record complete original copies of relevant agreements official receipts of payments and remittances made and received and audited or certified financial statements and documentary and money trail related to Gulf Steel Mills.”

The judgement pointed out that Mr Sharif and his sons were very close to each other and they were the members of tightly knit family. Subsequently, the judge declared that under Section 14(C) of the NAO Mr Sharif failed to discharge the heavier onus on him to provide satisfactory and credible explanation to the accusation.

The judge said: “Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif is held guilty for the offence of corruption and corrupt practices and accordingly, I do hereby convict him under Section 10 of the NAO, 1999…consequent upon his conviction having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, the convict is hereby sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a period of 07 years along with a fine of Rs1.5 billion and US$25 million.”

The court also directed the federal government to confiscate all the assets of HME and take up this matter with the Saudi government. Furthermore, the court barred him from holding public office for 10 years after completing the sentence. The judge also issued perpetual warrants of arrest for Hussain and Hassan Nawaz.

Plea for shifting Nawaz to Kot Lakhpat jail

Soon after the conviction in Al-Azizia reference, the accountability court accepted an application moved by the defence counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed and Zubair Khalid seeking a court order to shift Mr Sharif to Kot Lakhpat jail, Lahore, instead of Adiala jail, Rawalpindi.

The defence counsel urged the court that keeping in view that Mr Sharif was a heart patient and his personal physicians and family members were stationed in Lahore, he be shifted to Lahore jail.

While the prosecution opposed the application and said that Adiala jail had been notified by the federal government for keeping the convicts of Islamabad courts, the judge accepted the plea and said since he had convicted him and was sending him to jail, therefore, it was his discretion to decide it.

Talking to the media, Nawaz Sharif said he learnt that day that he had been “contesting this case not for acquittal but for conviction”.

He said: “But my conscience is clear. Thank God, there is no charge of corruption and corrupt practice or misuse of authority.”

Describing his emotions, he read out a couplet: “Hum tu hain pathar kay insan, hum tu har dukh seh gae” (I withstood all that happened as I have nerves of steel).

PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal commenting on the verdict and correlating it with the Supreme Court’s judgement of July 28, 2017 termed it a dilemma that the apex court disqualified the ex-premier over an unreceived salary from his son and the trial court convicted him for receiving money from the same son.

The SC in its last year verdict had disqualified Mr Sharif for not declaring his unclaimed salary from the company of his son Hussain Nawaz and directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file separate references against the ex-premier — Flagship Investment, Al-Azizia and Avenfield Properties — in the accountability court.

On July 6, Judge Mohammad Bashir of the accountability court awarded 10-year imprisonment to the ex-premier, seven years to his daughter Maryam Nawaz and one year to his son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar in Avenfield properties reference.

Who will lead PML-N?

With both its supreme leader and president behind bars when Nawaz Sharif was asked who would head the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the main opposition party in the National Assembly, he told the media that senior leadership of the party would take care of its affairs.

Regarding a question related to his daughter Maryam Nawaz, Mr Sharif said Maryam and a younger daughter wanted to be present in the courtroom but he stopped them. He said: “Maryam is looking after my 85-year-old mother. Because of the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif, death of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz and my ordeal, my mother seems to be very upset and she required proper care, therefore, I asked Maryam to look after her and stay with her.”

Senator Raja Zafarul Haq, the opposition leader in Senate, said the party had unanimously decided that Nawaz Sharif was the supreme leader and the party would belong to Mr Sharif forever.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2018