Nawaz lends unqualified support to Fazl’s anti-govt march

Updated October 12, 2019

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Lahore: Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif leaves the National Accountability Bureau court on Friday.—Murtaza Ali / White Star
Lahore: Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif leaves the National Accountability Bureau court on Friday.—Murtaza Ali / White Star

LAHORE: Former prime minister and supreme leader of the main opposition party Nawaz Sharif said on Friday that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) fully supported the ‘Azadi March’ announced by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Responding to media queries outside the accountability court, where he was brought by the National Accounta­bility Bureau from Kot Lakhpat jail in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills (CSM) case, Mr Sharif said: “We consider his (Maulana’s) point of view as ours.”

He regretted that PML-N had not lent an ear to the JUI-F leader’s suggestion regarding quitting the assemblies to protest the “rigged” elections of 2018. “I think his suggestion carried weight and this time, too, rejecting his point will be wrong,” Mr Sharif said, adding he had written a detailed letter to his brother and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif.

Renews resolve to promote narrative of respect for vote

He expressed the hope that Mr Shahbaz would soon hold a briefing on the issue and said: “We honour passion of Maulana Fazlur Rehman.”

The former premier also expressed his resolve to promote the narrative of giving respect to vote and said: “We were, are and will stick to our stance ... It is better to die with honour than living with disgrace.”

Earlier, the court granted his 14-day physical remand to the NAB in the Chaudhry sugar mills case.

Amid extraordinary security arrangements, the NAB officials presented him before the court after executing his arrest from Kot Lakhpat jail. It was his first appearance before any accountability court of Lahore, as he had previously been tried and convicted in NAB references by trial courts in Islamabad.

The courtroom was packed with charged lawyers and PML-N leaders when NAB officials brought him there. Ahsan Iqbal, Pervez Rasheed, Asif Kirmani, Ameer Muqam, Syed Mohammad Mehdi, Talal Chaudhry, Pervez Malik, Mohsin Ranjha, Marryium Aurangzeb, Azma Bokhari and Hina Pervez Butt besides Nawaz’s son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar were prominent among those present.

Outside the judicial complex, police blocked all roads by placing containers, iron fences and barbed wire. PML-N workers also gathered outside the complex to express solidarity with their leader but their number was unimpressive. Some party workers burnt tyres outside the Civil Secretariat protesting against the fresh arrest of their leader.

Appearing before presiding judge Ameer Mohammad Khan, NAB’s special prosecutor filed a report of initial investigation and sought his physical remand for 15 days. The prosecutor said Nawaz held majority shares of the Chaudhry sugar mills during his stints as Punjab finance minister, chief minister and prime minister of Pakistan. He invested around Rs2 billion, which was disproportionate to his known sources of income, in the Chaudhry sugar mills and the Shamim sugar mills from 1992 to 2016, the prosecutor added. Nawaz also acquired 4.32 million shares worth Rs43m of Chaudhry sugar mills in the names of his family members at the time of its establishment in 1991, he said.

The NAB counsel said a suspicious transaction of $10.55m loan to the mills by an offshore company, M/s Chadron Limited, St Hellier Jersey in 1992 was found during the probe. Nawaz didn’t identify the offshore company’s real owners in the documents, he said, adding that he acquired 11.527m shares of the mills worth over Rs400m in 2008 while his declared income for the corresponding year was Rs47m.

The prosecutor alleged that Nawaz in connivance with his daughter Maryam Nawaz, nephew Yousaf Abbas and other accused persons laundered Rs410m by showing false and fictitious transfer of 11m shares of the sugar mills in the name of a foreigner, Nasser Abdullah Lootah. He said the same shares were transferred back to Nawaz in 2014 when he was again holding the office of the prime minister.

Arguing that it was not a case of remand but quashment of the inquiry, defence counsel Amjad Pervez said all businesses and assets of his client, including the sugar mills, had already been investigated and discussed before the Supreme Court by the Panamagate JIT in 2017. As the JIT had not recommended filing of any reference about the sugar mills, the fresh inquiry showed NAB’s mala fide intent, he said.

To a court’s query, the NAB prosecutor said charges related to the sugar mills were supplementary in the charge-sheet filed by the JIT but the trial court had neither convicted nor acquitted the accused of those charges.

The defence counsel argued that the owners of Shamim Sugar Mills were not his client’s dependents and complete record of the shares was a public document available with the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

Speaking in his defence, the ex-PM complained of “political victimization” and “selective” use of the NAB against his party and other opposition leaders. “Every time they come after my family business, but have nothing to prove corruption,” he said, adding that his businesses had existed even before he had joined politics in the 1980s. The former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, too, had attempted to victimise him and his party through the NAB, he added.

He said he had already been in jail yet they were after him. “If there is any misconception, take me to Guantanamo Bay or Kala Pani but it will never make me bow down,” he concluded. The court then handed over his custody to the NAB for 14 days, directing the bureau to produce him again on Oct 25.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2019