LAHORE: An accountability court on Wednesday denied further custody of PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz and her cousin Yousaf Abbas to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case and sent them to jail on judicial remand.

“The prosecution has already availed sufficient time for collection of evidence and documents. The request for further remand of the suspects is just ... usual,” observed presiding judge Chaudhry Ameer Muhammad Khan while rejecting the application filed by the prosecution for another 15-day remand.

Earlier, the NAB officials brought Ms Nawaz and Mr Abbas to the court on expiry of their previous seven-day physical remand and special prosecutors Hafiz Asadullah Awan and Haris Qureshi tried to convince the court for further custody.

Mr Awan said latest investigation revealed new illegalities in distribution of wealth of both suspects. He said Ms Nawaz became the largest shareholder of the Chaudhry Sugar Mills (RSM) in 2008 having over 12 million shares and her assets had been found disproportionate to her income during that period.

Anti-graft body did not interrogate PML-N leader and instead, subjected her to humiliation, defence counsel says

The prosecutor said Ms Nawaz acquired the shares from three foreign nationals, Saeed Saif bin Jabar al-Sweidi, Hani Ahmad Jamjoom and Sheikh Zakauddin. The shares were later transferred to Mr Abbas and then to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

He said Ms Nawaz received Rs160m from a woman, Siddiqa Saeed Mahmood, in 1998 through telegraphic transfer. The suspect failed to explain any relation with that woman and the same lady also paid debt of the sugar mill.

The prosecutor further said the CSM was shifted from Gojra to Rahim Yar Khan in 2015 with an expense of Rs1.5 billion and this amount had not so far been justified by the suspects.

Further custody of the suspects was required for completion of the investigation, he insisted.

On the other hand, defence counsel Amjad Pervez argued that both Ms Nawaz and Mr Abbas were minors when their late grandfather Haji Mohammad Sharif established the sugar mill in 1991.

Asked to tell Ms Nawaz’s date of birth, the investigating officer (IO) tried but failed to find her identity card in the case file and could only tell the year of her birth. However, Ms Nawaz, standing in the dock, told the court that it was Oct 28, 1973.

The judge also expressed displeasure when the IO said he did not possess “memorandum of association” of the sugar mill. Continuing his arguments, the defence counsel said Mohammad Sharif had transferred the shares of the sugar mill.

Rejecting the allegation of money laundering against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the lawyer said the Sharif family had no shares in the mill since 2016. He said the financial affairs of the sugar mill had already been thoroughly investigated by a joint investigation team formed by the Supreme Court in Panama Papers case. He argued that all sale and purchase of the shares was in accordance with laws of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the companies.

The counsel said power to investigate any irregularity in regulatory affairs of a sugar mill vested with the SECP and such matters did not fall in the domain of NAB.

He argued that NAB had invoked the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2010 to investigate transfer of shares that took place in 2008, though the law could not be invoked retrospectively.

The lawyer further said NAB lied about the woman namely Siddiqa as the matter relating to her transaction already stood settled by the Lahore High Court in Hudaibiya Papers Mills case.

He said the prosecution had been seeking remand of the suspects on the last three hearings with no new ground.

He said NAB did not interrogate Ms Nawaz during the last seven days. Instead, it subjected her to humiliation and mental agony. “They put food outside the door and ask her to pick it herself. They also keep her detention room unclean for days,” the counsel complained to the court.

After hearing both sides, the judge dismissed NAB’s application, sent the suspects to jail on judicial remand and sought appearance on Oct 9.

The judge asked Ms Nawaz to approach the prison authorities when she sought her transfer to the Kot Lakhpat Central Jail instead of the camp jail. However, she was initially taken to the camp jail to meet procedural obligations and later shifted to the Kot Lakhpat jail by prison officials.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2019