• Ex-PM’s biometric verification at airport sparks controversy
• Receives protocol from civil administration on his arrival at Lahore
ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif signed applications at the Islamabad International Airport on Saturday to restore pending appeals against his convictions in the Avenfield Apartments and Al-Azizia references.
The applications, prepared by his legal team, will be filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) division bench and are likely to be heard on Tuesday (Oct 24), a PML-N lawyer told Dawn. Mr Sharif’s legal team will also present a petition seeking protective bail. Besides, Mr Sharif is also supposed to appear before an accountability court on the same day.
The former premier was convicted in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references and was declared a proclaimed offender in the Toshakhana vehicle case, which is pending before an Islamabad accountability court. He was on bail in these cases when he left for the UK in 2019 on medical grounds.
On July 6, 2018, a few days before the general elections, accountability court judge Muhammad Bashir convicted Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif and her husband, Safdar Awan, in the Avenfield apartments reference that was investigated by a six-member joint investigation team formed to look into the Panama Papers revelations.
The trial court also accused Maryam Nawaz of being the beneficial owner of offshore companies that owned the properties.
While an IHC division bench virtually cleared Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield apartments reference, calling the accountability court’s decision ‘not correct“, Mr Sharif’s absconder status meant that he wasn’t exonerated despite the court observing a lack of substantial evidence against him.
The detailed order said the accountability watchdog could not give a satisfactory answer to the question of whether the prosecution had “discharged the onus required on its part”.
The prosecution had to prove that Mr Sharif had purchased Avenfield apartments in the name of Maryam through corrupt and illegal practices and that she, being his dependent, had aided and abetted him by concealing the true ownership.
It also had to prove that when the properties were acquired, Mr Sharif was a public office-holder. “There does not exist on record any evidence to the effect,” the court order said.
In another twist, Accountability judge Arshad Malik, who had convicted Mr Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference but cleared him in the Flagship Investment case, later confessed to convicting the former prime minister under duress in a leaked conversation.
Mr Malik was subsequently removed from his position and passed away on Dec 4, 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biometric verification sparks controversy
Meanwhile, Mr Sharif’s biometric verification at Islamabad International Airport sparked controversy on social media, as many online activists, especially from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, viewed this as preferential treatment. Some even alleged that the IHC had depu-ted its staff at the airport for Mr Sharif’s exclusive benefit.
However, an IHC senior officer dispelled the impression, insisting that biometric verification is overseen by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to ensure that an applicant is filing the petition by themself.
He said the procedure became mandatory due to past instances where petitions were disowned or unauthorised persons filed replies, rendering the hearing process a futile exercise.
Subsequently, biometric verification was made mandatory for filing petitions, civil miscellaneous applications, appeals, replies and reports on behalf of respondents. The biometric verification can be done at the IHC, Nadra service centres or any kiosk or franchise offering the service, he said.
He recalled that IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq also offered the same facility to PTI lawyers through a franchise when PTI Chairman Imran Khan filed a bail petition but could not come for biometric verification due to his injury in the Wazirabad incident.
Protocol for Nawaz
Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, Lahore’s civil administration gave official protocol to Mr Sharif when he arrived there from Islamabad on Saturday to address a public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan.
As Mr Sharif’s helicopter landed at the Lahore Fort, Lahore Commissioner Muhammad Ali Randhawa and Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Bilal Siddique Kamyana were in the front rows along with the PML-N leaders to greet him in his hometown, Lahore. The CCPO even went one step further and saluted Mr Sharif.
Sources say the deputy commissioners were instructed to facilitate all the caravans coming to Lahore from across the province.
Mansoor Malik in Lahore also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, October 22th, 2023