Four years after their conviction, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz and her husband Captain (retd) Safdar were acquitted in the Avenfield properties corruption reference after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) overturned the July 2018 verdict on Thursday.
In a brief order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the court said: “For the reasons to be recorded later, the instant appeal is allowed and the judgement dated July 6, 2018, is set aside.”
It added that Maryam and Captain Safdar’s convictions have been set aside and they have been acquitted of the charges in the reference.
Speaking outside the court, the PML-N leader hailed the verdict and said that Mian Nawaz Sharif stood “vindicated”.
She started her media talk while speaking on the phone to her father and paused midway to receive another from her uncle Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, both of whom congratulated Maryam on the victory.
Separately, PM Shehbaz said the “edifice of lies, slander and character assassination” had come crumbling down.
“Maryam’s acquittal in the Avenfield reference is a slap in the face of so-called accountability system that was employed to target the Sharif family. My congratulations to Maryam beti and Safdar,” he said.
Geo News quoted Nawaz as saying that the cases against him and his daughter were “baseless”.
“The sentences were announced hastily to prevent us from participating in the 2018 elections,” he said to his aides, according to the publication.
Based on today’s verdict, Maryam is now eligible to contest elections.
In her media talk, Maryam appeared to evade questions about her taking part in the next general elections. “Party head Nawaz and PM Shehbaz will decide when and where I will contest,” she said, adding that the party would take a decision in this regard.
Legal eagles weigh in
Lawyer Maryam Ali Abbasi called the verdict “quite damning” for the accountability watchdog which she said was “already moving towards heavy regulation or redundancy”.
Lawyer Mirza Moiz Baig while talking to Dawn.com said “a person who has been convicted of a crime involving corruption or moral turpitude is disqualified from contesting elections unless a period of five years has lapsed since their release”.
“While the Supreme Court has, in the case of Samiullah Baloch, held that a disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) continues for life, a disqualification under Article 63(1)(g) isn’t incurable,” he explained.
“Maryam Nawaz, unlike her father, was never declared to fall short of the requirements enshrined under Article 62(1)(f). To the contrary, the only bar to her contesting elections was her conviction in the Avenfield reference. With the conviction being overturned by the Islamabad High Court, Maryam Nawaz’s candidature for an election to the Parliament will no longer trigger Article 63(1)(g).”
“The judgment rendered by the high court may, thus, pave the way for Maryam Nawaz’s formal foray into electoral politics,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, lawyer Basil Nabi Malik said that the overturning of the conviction should not come as a surprise to anyone.
“From the very beginning, there were severe doubts about the manner, mode, and method of achieving the conviction,” he told Dawn.com.
“However, although correct in doing so, unfortunately, this overturning will be seen by many as a sign of changed times, as opposed to any real achievement of justice,” he said, adding that such was the degree of politicisation in the country.
A two-member bench, comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, presided over today’s hearing during which the court heard arguments from both sides.
At the outset of the hearing, Maryam’s lawyer Amjad Pervaiz and NAB prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi appeared before the court.
“At the previous hearing Usman Cheema presented the arguments but he is not feeling well today,” the bureau’s lawyer told the court. He then requested to present arguments with the bench’s permission.
During today’s hearing, Justice Kiyani remarked that the opinion of the investigating officer could not be considered as evidence. “The joint investigation team did not present any fact, it just collected information,” he observed.
For his part, Muzaffar said that Wajid Zia — former director of the Federal Investigation Agency — had overviewed the documents himself and expressed his opinion on it.
“I will show from the documents that these properties were purchased in 1999,” the NAB prosecutor said.
Justice Kayani also inquired about the other documents the prosecution had produced apart from oral statements. “What is the position of Nawaz Sharif regarding this case?” the judge asked, to which Muzaffar replied that Nawaz’s position was that he had no relation to the property.
The court remarked that if Nawaz maintained that he had no link, then the prosecution had to prove it.
The court observed that Muzaffar’s statements were contradictory, adding that the NAB prosecutor had said at the previous hearing that Maryam had no role in purchasing the properties.
“Usman [Cheema] clearly said that Maryam had nothing to do with the properties in 1993. You’re saying that Maryam’s connection was there from the beginning,” Justice Farooq remarked, adding that NAB should first make itself clear on the issue and then inform the court.
Muzaffar replied that Nawaz had bought properties in London in Maryam’s name while being a public office holder.
Justice Farooq told Muzaffar to prove his claims with evidence, further remarking that NAB had no case apart from the various applications filed.
“The details could have been taken if Wajid Zia knew that the properties were worth $5 million. It was not difficult at all to get the details of the properties,” the judge remarked, to which Muzaffar replied that determining the value of properties was not relevant.
Justice Farooq pointed out that Muzaffar was “absolutely wrong” in saying that the determination of value was irrelevant.
At one point, Justice Farooq observed that the Sharif family’s stance was that they had bought the properties in 2006. “Despite their admission, Nawaz is not related [to the case],” he remarked.
Justice Kayani also observed that on the basis of these documents, the NAB had prepared the entire case against Maryam. “In the entire case by the NAB, there is no [mention] of Nawaz,” Justice Farooq noted.
Justice Farooq remarked that a property being in a daughter’s name did not necessarily mean that it was owned by the father.
The NAB prosecutor contended that the Sharif family had not submitted any documents in its defence.
At that, Justice Farooq said, “Why should they have presented any documents? It was not their job. The NAB had to prove [the case against them].”
Justice Kayani added, “They should have stood silently. They should not have said anything.”
“If they admit while standing in the rostrum that they owned the properties, even then the prosecution has to prove [the case against them],” Justice Farooq added. He said that NAB’s case may be valid, but it had failed to prove it.
“The investigator has to prove this position as wrong. The prosecution has to prove that the real ownership belongs to Nawaz Sharif,” the judge said, adding that the watchdog had to bring the facts to light after the investigation.
He told NAB to show the documents that proved the property trail to be wrong.
Meanwhile, Justice Farooq said that the case commenced in 2006 but the accountability bureau took it all the way back to 1993. “The Sharif family had nothing to do with the properties in 1993,” he observed.
Justice Kayani concurred, saying that according to the Sharif family’s admission, the case against them was registered in 2006.
He noted that Maryam being written down as the beneficial owner was just an opinion and there was no evidence for it. “The case that NAB has made is against Maryam Nawaz and not against Nawaz Sharif,” he added.
Here, Justice Farooq pondered here how the case was merited since the PML-N vice president was not any public office holder.
“If they did not have their own admission then there would have been no case against them. The Sharif families had nothing to do with the properties in 1993,” Justice Farooq noted.
Furthermore, Justice Kayani pointed out that it was now clear the ownership of the properties belonged to the companies and then called on NAB to show the link of the companies to Nawaz or Maryam.
“Captain (retd) Safdar was convicted on the basis of the trust deed. Even if we consider that this is a fake document, all parties are accepting [it],” he said, adding that there was a possibility that the document was “false and prepared later”.
Justice Kiyani also inquired if Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz or Captain Safdar were ever arrested in the case. “No, none of them were arrested,” the NAB prosecutor replied.
Subsequently, the court reserved its verdict.
On July 6, a few weeks before the elections in 2018, the accountability judge of Islamabad, who was working under the supervision of an apex court judge, convicted the Sharif family in the Avenfield apartment reference.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was handed 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Meanwhile, Maryam was given 7 years for abetment after she was found “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” and one year for non-cooperation with the bureau.
Safdar was given one year jail time — for not cooperating with NAB, and aiding and abetting Nawaz and Maryam.
In October last year, Maryam filed a new application, along with “extremely relevant, simple and clear-cut facts”, with the IHC seeking annulment of that verdict.
In her application, Maryam stated that the entire proceedings that resulted in her conviction were a “classic example of outright violations of law and political engineering hitherto unheard of in the history of Pakistan”.
She also attached a reference to the speech made by former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui at the District Bar Association, Rawalpindi on July 21, 2018, wherein he had claimed that the country’s top intelligence agency was involved in manipulating judicial proceedings.
“The ISI officials had approached the chief justice asking him to make sure Nawaz and his daughter should not be bailed before the elections,” read the petition, quoting an excerpt from ex-judge Siddiqui’s speech.