IHC adjourns Nawaz’s appeals against convictions in Avenfield, Al-Azizia references till Wednesday

Published November 27, 2023
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is pictured arriving at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday. — DawnNewsTV
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is pictured arriving at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday. — DawnNewsTV

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday adjourned the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s appeals against his convictions in the Avenfield Apartments and Al-Azizia references till Wednesday (November 29).

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 National Accountability Bureau (NAB), both of which were 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. He was also fined Rs1.5 billion and US$25 million.

The IHC had declared him a proclaimed offender in both cases in December 2020. After leaving for London on medical grounds, Nawaz remained there for nearly four years and only returned to the country last month.

After returning from the UK, the PML-N leader had filed two separate applications seeking the restoration of his appeals against his conviction in both the references.

He had contended 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 for a decision on them on merit. Last month, the IHC had restored the appeals in question.

Ahead of today’s hearing, Nawaz arrived in court amid tight security. He appeared before the court accompanied by his legal team, including ex-law minister Azam Nazir Tarar and Amjad Pervaiz.

A video shared by PML-N on X (formerly Twitter) showed former finance minister Ishaq Dar arriving alongside the ex-premier at the IHC.

The hearing

IHC Chief Justice Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb presided over today’s hearing. At the outset of the hearing, Nawaz’s lawyer Pervaiz presented a chronological list of event in the Panama reference against the Sharif family.

Upon the court inquiring if the “facts” presented by him were from before the reference was filed, the counsel answered that “three facts” were from before while the rest of them were from afterwards.

Citing the Supreme Court’s order on the Panama Papers case, in which Nawaz was disqualified, the lawyer recalled that a joint investigation team had been formed in light of the verdict.

At this point during the hearing, Justice Aurangzeb asked whether the counsel’s arguments had “any scope”. Pervaiz then apprised the court of the JIT’s constitution and its members.

He informed the IHC that the JIT submitted a 12-volume report to the apex court in July 2017 after which the involved parties presented their arguments and the court issued the final verdict on July 28, 2017, disqualifying his client.

Justice Aurangzeb then asked the counsel, “What orders did the Supreme Court clearly issue? Did the SC issue any directives to the NAB chairman?”

To this, Pervaiz responded that the apex court “gave positive orders to NAB that references be filed against Nawaz Sharif”.

He specified that the SC had ordered for the Avenfield reference to be filed against Nawaz, his daughter Maryam, sons Husain and Hasan, and Captain (rtd) Safdar, while the Al-Azizia and Flagship references were also to be filed against Nawaz and his two sons.

Pervaiz then said, “According to the Supreme Court’s orders, NAB can also file a supplementary reference on new evidence coming forth.”

At this, Justice Aurangzeb asked the counsel about what happened during the period between the SC issuing orders and the NAB filing the references. He further inquired if all three references were filed on the same day, to which Pervaiz replied in the affirmative, adding that they were filed in September 2017.

The IHC judge then asked if the ex-premier was present in the country when the references were filed, to which the counsel responded that his client was in the United Kingdom along with his daughter.

At this point during the hearing, Justice Farooq asked whether the suspects were indicted in the Avenfield reference only or in all three cases. Pervaiz replied that they were indicted in “all three cases on the same day” but the proceedings were held separately later on.

He further informed the IHC that the prosecution did not provide him with a copy of volume 10 of the JIT report. The chief justice then said, “At least some of the details from volume 10 would have come on record during the trial?”

However, the lawyer said that no document from the volume was brought on the record, adding that a “few questions were answered during the interrogation”.

At one point, Justice Aurangzeb noted that Nawaz was also acquitted in one reference. At this, the NAB prosecutor said that Nawaz was acquitted in the Flagship reference by an accountability court.

“Has NAB filed an appeal against the acquittal?” asked Justice Aurangzeb. The NAB prosecutor responded by saying that an appeal had been filed but notices had not yet been issued and it was not even fixed for hearing.

Nawaz’s lawyer contended that accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir had issued a verdict on one of the references, after which a plea was filed for transferring the remaining cases to another court.

Justice Aurangzeb then noted that the PML-N had filed pleas for hearing all three references simultaneously. “The judge heard one swiftly and stayed proceedings on the other two,” he said.

Pervaiz said that the accountability watchdog filed references against Nawaz on the basis of the JIT report. “Did NAB ever use its own mind when doing something?” asked Justice Aurangzeb.

“NAB did not do anything other than send a call-up notice to Nawaz Sharif,” Pervez said. He added that the bureau did not present any “concrete evidence” apart from statements from witnesses. He said that the call-up notice issued by NAB had nothing to do with the investigation.

“So NAB did not conduct a separate investigation on its part?” asked Justice Aurangzeb, to which the lawyer responded in the affirmative. Pervaiz said that NAB did not issue a questionnaire to Nawaz.

Nawaz’s lawyer then read out the text of the indictment in the Avenfield reference. He said that Nawaz had denied wrongdoing after the charges were framed.

He said that after the indictment, an accountability court had sought evidence from NAB, which first presented a preliminary report before submitting a detailed one. He said that the preliminary investigation report only referred to the SC verdict, adding that the charges against Nawaz were incorrectly framed.

He said the statements of six out of the 18 witnesses were recorded in the Avenfield reference when NAB filed a supplementary reference.

“Did any witness give a statement after which NAB decided to file supplementary reference?” asked Justice Aurangzeb. To this, Pervaiz said that the first witness produced records from the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

“I will say that our case was opened and while the witnesses were being cross-examined, NAB decided to bring a supplementary reference,” he contended. However, the court directed the lawyer to take some time and submit a response to the court.

The lawyer further said that the trial court announced its verdict in the Avenfield reference in the absence of Nawaz and Maryam. “Mian Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz were in London to visit Kulsoom Nawaz,” he said.

He said that Kulsoom was suffering from late-stage cancer at the time. He said that the PML-N had asked the trial court to change the date of the hearing but the application was rejected the same day.

At one point, PML-N’s Tarar asked the court to exempt Nawaz from appearing before the court. “There are security issues at every hearing,” he contended.

“You file an application for exemption then we will see,” Justice Farooq responded. The hearing was then adjourned till Wednesday.

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