• NAB expresses ‘inability’ to argue case, withdraws its appeal against acquittal in Flagship reference
• Counsel says no direct evidence to prove PML-N leader owns London properties

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was acquitted in the Avenfield Apartments corruption case by the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday, more than five years after he was convicted by an accountability court ahead of general elections in July 2018.

The IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurang­zeb also dismissed an app­eal filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against Mr Sharif’s acquittal in the Flagship Investment reference after the bureau lawyer said it was not interested in pursuing this appeal.

The PML-N supreme lea­der had returned to Pak­istan in October, after spending four years in Lon­don on medical grounds.

Justice Farooq dictated the short order in the open court after the counsel for Mr Sharif concluded his arguments and NAB Dep­uty Prosecutor General (DPG) Azhar Maqbool Shah did not oppose the appeal.

The IHC chief justice dictated: “The NAB has expressed inability to argue the case, therefore, the reasons to be recorded later on, the instant appeal is allowed.”

After the NAB lawyer said the accountability watchdog was not interested in pursuing the Flagship appeal, the court order said the appeal was “dismissed as withdrawn”.

Mr Sharif was convicted in the Avenfield Apart­me­nts reference on July 6, 2018, by an accountability court in Islamabad. An­other accountability court convicted him in the Al-Azizia reference but acquitted him in the Flagship reference on Dec 24, 2018.

The difference between the Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment references was that in the former, the prosecution brought on judicial record that Mr Sharif received $10.2 million and 1.26m euros from his son Hussain Nawaz from the Hill Metal Esta­blishment, whereas no such amount was remitted in his name from the Flag­ship Investment and other companies owned by Hassan Nawaz in the UK.

The Supreme Court in its verdict of April 20, 2017, ordered the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) headed by an additional director general of the Federal Inves­tigation Agency. The apex court had also asked the JIT to probe any transactions from the Gulf Steel Mills (GSM) through which the Sharif family had allegedly acquired the Avenfield properties, Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment as well as other companies.

‘No direct evidence’

During the hearing of the appeal, Mr Sharif’s counsel argued before the bench that on the basis of the JIT’s report, the Supreme Court bench directed the NAB to file three references against Mr Sharif and one against Ishaq Dar.

During the course of the hearing, PML-N leader’s counsel Amjad Pervaiz said the NAB was required to establish ownership, title of the properties in the name of Mr Sharif, evidence of his possession, price of the properties and a comparative assessment of how it was beyond his means.

He referred to the statement of JIT head Wajid Zia in which he conceded that there was no direct evidence of Mr Sharif’s ownership, possession and title of registry of the properties in his name. He then cited the judgement of the IHC that acquitted Maryam Nawaz in the Avenfield reference.

He argued that the IHC had already done a tentative assessment of Mr Sharif’s role in the case. While he was reading excerpts from the verdict, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb asked him if the judgement was binding on the bench.

The counsel replied that since it was passed by a division bench of the IHC and one of the members was also a part of the bench currently hearing this case, that was why he referred to the said decision.

“If we presume that the decision was erroneous, should we issue notice to Maryam Nawaz,” asked Justice Aurangzeb. He asked NAB’s prosecutor, “Did you file the appeal against this order?”

Mr Shah replied in the negative.

He informed the judge that the judgement has attained finality and since NAB has not filed the appeal, therefore the prosecution cannot oppose the appeal.

When Justice Aurangzeb asked “Do you mean to say we should allow the appeal”; the prosecutor replied in affirmative. He said that since Maryam Nawaz had already been absolved in this case, the case against Mr Sharif could not be proved.

Following his acquittal, Mr Sharif said that he had left everything to Allah.

Mr Sharif is now pursuing his appeal against conviction in the Al-Azizia case. He is also facing another case in the accountability court related to a Toshakhana vehicle.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2023

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