Written verdict in Flagship Investment case still awaited

Updated December 30, 2018

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The accountability courts across the country provide a written judgement the same day or a day after pronouncing it in the court. ─ APP/File
The accountability courts across the country provide a written judgement the same day or a day after pronouncing it in the court. ─ APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Even after the lapse of six days, the accountability court has not issued its judgement in the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) reference about Flagship Investment against Nawaz Sharif in which the former prime minister has been acquitted of all charges.

On Dec 24, Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik announced in the court that “he didn’t find anything against Nawaz Sharif in reference No 18 [Flagship Investment] and the accused is acquitted in this case”.

However, announcing his decision in the Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment (HME) case, he convicted Mr Sharif and awarded him seven years’ imprisonment and imposed a heavy fine.

Zubair Khalid, a counsel for Mr Sharif, on Saturday termed the delay in the issuance of the judgement in the Flagship Investment reference “unusual”. “I have never experienced such a delay... after pronouncement of a judgement by a trial court,” he said.

While the verdict in case of a conviction is handed over to the accused at the time of its pronouncement, the judgement in case of acquittal is provided to him/her on request.

Nawaz’s counsel terms delay ‘unusual’

According to Mr Khalid, the accountability courts across the country provide a written judgement the same day or a day after pronouncing it in the court. He said they had asked for the judgement the day it was handed down.

The prosecuting agency, NAB, has already decided that it will file an appeal against the judgement in the Flagship reference. The decision was taken at a meeting presided over by NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal soon after the verdict’s announcement in the court.

Under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), an appeal against the verdict of the accountability court may be filed within 10 days of receipt of a written order of the court.

Sources in the prosecuting agency said that evidence in the two references — Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment — were identical.

The Supreme Court in its verdict of April 20, 2017 had ordered the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) headed by an additional director general of the Federal Investigation Agency and asked it to answer multiple questions including those relating to the setting up of the Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment (HME) and Flagship Investment.

The apex court had also asked the JIT to probe into any transactions from the Gulf Steel Mills (GSM) through which the Sharif family had allegedly acquired the Avenfield properties, HME and Flagship Investment as well as other companies.

Subsequently, the alleged money trail of the Sharif family started from AED12 million from GSM which was invested with a Qatari family and drawn for Avenfield properties, HME and Flagship Investment.

In its report submitted to the Supreme Court in July 2017, the JIT rejected the said money trail. Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir in the verdict in the Avenfield properties reference and Judge Arshad Malik both remained unconvinced about the financial source from which the Sharif family was said to have acquired properties and started businesses in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.

The difference between the HME and Flagship Investment references was that in the former, the prosecution has brought on judicial record that Mr Sharif received US$10.2 million and 1.26m euros from the HME whereas no such amount was remitted in the name of Mr Sharif from the Flagship Investment and other companies owned by Hassan Nawaz in the UK.

While a detailed verdict about Flagship Investment has yet to be issued, the accountability court in its decision on the HME reference noted that from perusal of the letters submitted to the Supreme Court by Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani — in which he had confirmed the AED12m investment — the prince’s information was based on “hearsay” as the alleged investment was made with his late grandfather.

In other words, the accountability judge rejected the money trail but his decision was in line with section 14(C) of the NAO that says “the court shall presume, unless the contrary is proved, that the accused is guilty of the offence”.

The court order read: “The statutory presumption under section 14(C) of the ordinance also validly applies and is invoked and drawn against the accused [Nawaz Sharif] who has manifestly failed to provide any satisfactory and credible explanation.”

The judgement in the HME reference further noted: “The prosecution has successfully established all the ingredients of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices against the accused.”

According to a senior lawyer, the court established the ownership of the company on the basis of the amount Mr Sharif received from HME’s profits.

He said there was a difference between establishing a business and receiving something from the profit of a running business and such recipients might not be presumed as the real owners, rather as “abettors”.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2018