Punjab govt suspends Nawaz’s sentence in Al-Azizia reference; CM says case referred to court

Published October 24, 2023
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is pictured at a rally at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore on Oct 21 following his return to Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: PML-N/X
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is pictured at a rally at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore on Oct 21 following his return to Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: PML-N/X

The Punjab government on Tuesday suspended PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s sentence in the Al-Azizia reference, the Punjab caretaker information minister and the former prime minister’s lawyer confirmed.

However, caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi later clarified the case had been forwarded to the court.

Nawaz, who returned to the country over the weekend after almost four years in self-exile, was convicted in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references in 2018.

The Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference pertains to a case in which Nawaz was sentenced to seven years in jail on Dec 24, 2018. He was also fined Rs1.5 billion and US$25 million.

Interim Punjab Information Minister Amir Mir and Nawaz’s lawyer Amjad Parvez both confirmed the development to Dawn.com.

Mir said that the caretaker government had done this by “using its constitutional powers” under Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which deals with suspensions, remissions and commutations of sentences.

It states: “When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the provincial government may at any time without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced.”

He said that the the government led by ex-Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar had done the same in October 2019, without elaborating further.

Speaking on Dawn News, Barrister Asad Rahim termed the development “quite surprising” and said it seemed as if “new precedents are now being set”.

The lawyer was of the view that other convicts could also now request the same relief from the government “according to the precedents that we have been witnessing since the past few months”.

However, in a media talk later in the day, CM Naqvi clarified that Nawaz’s sentence in the case had not been suspended and the case had been referred to the court under Section 401.

He said that during the previous Usman Buzdar administration, Nawaz’s request was dismissed without a “fair hearing” and the court was now entrusted with the decision of granting or denying bail.

A day earlier, Nawaz had formally filed two separate applications with the Islamabad High Court (IHC) seeking restoration of his appeals against the conviction in the Avenfield Apartments and Al-Azizia references.

In the applications, the PML-N supreme leader said that while he was abroad for medical treatment, the pending appeals were dismissed for non-prosecution. The applications requested the court to revive the pending appeals to make a decision on these pleas on merit.

Late accountability judge Arshad Malik convicted Nawaz in the Al-Azizia reference but absolved him in the Flagship Investment case in December same year. Judge Arshad, however, in a leaked conversation ostensibly admitted that he sentenced the PML-N leader under duress.

Subsequently, he was removed from the accountability court and was repatriated to his parent department Lahore High Court (LHC). He was facing the inquiry and was ultimately removed from the service. He died during the Covid-19 pandemic on Dec 4, 2020.

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