IHC restores Nawaz’s appeals against conviction in Al-Azizia, Avenfield references

Published October 26, 2023
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif arrives at the Islamabad High Court on Thursday. — Screengrab via X
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif arrives at the Islamabad High Court on Thursday. — Screengrab via X

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday restored PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif appeals against his conviction in the Avenfield Apartments and Al-Azizia references.

The verdict, which was reserved earlier today, was announced by a division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb.

The bench issued the verdict while hearing Nawaz’s pleas seeking protective bail in the cases and for restoring his appeals against his conviction.

In July 2018, Nawaz was handed 10 years in jail in the Avenfield properties corruption reference for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with the NAB, which was to be served concurrently.

The Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference pertains to the case in which he was sentenced to seven years in jail on Dec 24, 2018 and then taken to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail, from where he was shifted to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail next day. He was also fined Rs1.5 billion and US$25 million in the case.

Nawaz was released from jail in March 2019, following which he left for London in November 2019 after the LHC allowed him to do so on medical grounds. The IHC had declared him a proclaimed offender in both cases in December 2020.

Nawaz then remained in London for nearly four years and only returned to the country earlier this month. The PML-N leader was granted protective bail in both the cases after arriving back in Pakistan. On Monday, the IHC had extended Nawaz’s protective bail in both cases till Oct 26 (today).

During today’s proceedings, Nawaz appeared before the court alongside his brother Shehbaz and other party leaders.

At the outset of the hearing, NAB Prosecutor General Ehtesham Qadir Shah stated that the court had directed the watchdog’s chairman to provide an opinion on the bail pleas. He informed the court, “We had an extensive discussion regarding the petitions.”

Focusing on the Avenfield case first, Shah said that the reference could potentially be withdrawn if the verdict had not been announced. He also emphasised that there was a possibility of withdrawing the reference during an ongoing trial.

“According to Pakistani laws, if an appeal is accepted against a decision, the reference cannot be withdrawn,” he said. “If an appeal is submitted, a decision must be reached, and it cannot be dismissed based on non-compliance,” he said.

Shah further said that the reference had been filed in accordance with the Supreme Court’s order and had received approval from the NAB chairman.

He highlighted that the accused would be entitled to all legal remedies if they followed the law. “If a proclaimed offender surrenders, they should be granted all legal remedies,” the prosecutor told the court.

He further mentioned that NAB had no objections to restoring appeals against Nawaz’s conviction, affirming, “We will provide our opinion on the appeals once they are scheduled for a hearing.”

Azam Nazir Tarar, Nawaz’s lawyer, expressed that in his 30-year career, he had never witnessed a case where a proclaimed offender appeared before the court, yet his right to appeal was not reinstated. “The moment an accused appears in court, the warrants against them stand cancelled the very moment,” he said.

Amjad Parvez, counsel for Nawaz, conveyed that the court had scrutinised his client’s role in the appeals against the sentences of Maryam Nawaz and Captain (retd) Safdar.

He explained that the court had concluded that making a decision on the appeals of the remaining two accused was impossible “without evaluating Nawaz’s character”.

Justice Farooq then asked NAB prosecutor general whether he sought a decision on Nawaz’s appeals based on merit.

To this, he responded, “Yes, please. Nawaz Sharif has surrendered and is currently at the disposal of the court.”

The IHC chief justice asked the NAB prosecutor if he intended to apprehend the PML-N leader.

The NAB prosecutor responded, “Not at all, as I have already stated this previously.”

He emphasised that prior court orders related to Nawaz did not include any mention of arrest, stating, “The most the court can do is to obtain new surety bonds from the PML-N leader.”

Following the arguments, the court reserved the verdict on the petitions.

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