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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court has deferred the hearing of a petition filed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif seeking suspension of his sentence awarded by an accountability court in the Al-Azizia reference.

A division bench of the IHC comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Aamer Farooq took up the petition on Monday. It pointed out that since the appeal against the conviction in the Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment reference had not been fixed and taken up, the petition for suspension of the sentence could not be entertained at this stage.

The lead defence counsel for Mr Sharif, Khawaja Haris Ahmed, informed the court that the petition had been numbered and would be fixed before the bench accordingly.

Justice Minallah observed that unless the appeal against the conviction was admitted, the petition seeking suspension of the sentence could not be heard.

“The appeal against conviction would be fixed as per usual routine,” said Khawaja Haris.

“We will pass an order,” remarked Justice Minallah and adjourned further hearing till the fixing of the appeal.

Court says since appeal against ex-PM’s conviction in Al-Azizia case has not been fixed, petition for suspension of sentence cannot be entertained

Senior politician Raja Zafarul Haq, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, Dr Mussadiq Malik, Mohammad Zubair, Sadia Abbasi and senior advocates of the PML-N Lawyers Forum attended the hearing.

Accountability court judge Mohammad Arshad Malik had on Dec 24 convicted Mr Sharif in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills Company (ASCL)/ Hill Metal Establishment (HME) reference, awarded him seven years imprisonment and fined him Rs1.5 billion and $25 million.

Judge Malik held that Mr Sharif was the beneficial as well as real owner of both these companies since he received about 88 per cent profit of the HME.

Mr Sharif filed the appeal through his lead counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed. It pointed out certain ‘extraneous’ factors which “accountability judges never consider while imparting judgements in routine cases”.

The judge, however, acquitted Mr Sharif in the reference pertaining to Flagship and other UK-based companies owned by his son Hassan Nawaz.

As per the charge sheet, the former premier has allegedly “injected an amount of GBP3.2 million” in Flagship and other companies. The charge sheet accused Mr Sharif of “accumulation of the above said assets” in the names of his children.

The judgement, however, declared: “In view of the specific charge framed therein against the accused no. 1, there is insufficient evidence to safely reach to the conclusion that the accused no. 1 is the real beneficial owner of the entity Flagship Investment Ltd or assets held in its name as also the other entities listed in the charge.”

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), on the other hand, has challenged the acquittal of Mr Sharif in the Flagship Investment reference.

In the appeal against the acquittal in the Flagship Investment reference, NAB alleged that accountability court judge Malik had “acquitted the accused [Mr Sharif] from the charge without proper appreciation of the prosecution evidence and the same is unwarranted, based on misreading and non-reading of cogent evidence, against the facts and legal justification and is liable to set aside”.

The appeal states that the court has noted that Mr Sharif has been holding the high-profile portfolios since 1985, is the most influential person of monolithic and tightly connected family. The accused is father of the benamidar accused(s) instrumental in establishing the companies and provided working capital amounting to GBP3.2 million in these companies.

NAB has filed another appeal to enhance the sentence from seven to 14 years, saying that the prosecution has proved its case beyond any shadow of doubt and, therefore, the sentence may be enhanced to the maximum limit.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019

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