Accountability clock starts ticking for Sharif family, Dar

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-NAB files four corruption references against Sharifs, Dar in accountability courts

–Prosecution team submits in court 12 cartons full of documents from NAB’s regional offices

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Friday filed four corruption references against former premier Nawaz Sharif, his three children, his son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in compliance with the Supreme Court July 28 verdict in the Panama Papers case.

The references were approved at a much-awaited meeting of NAB’s executive board presided over by its Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry on Thursday.

At least 12 cartons full of documents from NAB’s regional offices were brought in by the prosecution team, amidst tight security, to Islamabad’s accountability court-I and II.

A well-placed source within the NAB told Pakistan Today that the second reference, filed on Friday, is considered the most important in the light of Panamagate. The said reference is filed against Nawaz Sharif and his two sons regarding the Azizia Steel Company (erstwhile Gulf Steel Mills) and Hill Metal Establishment (HME). It is the same reference, about which the media reported today (Friday), that the accountability court registrar had deemed “incomplete” after initial scrutiny.

“The reference regarding HME is a key to whole Panama saga. It is literally interlinked to the remaining references and is impossible to defend,” the source said.

The source further explained that the Sharif family was unable to give any reasonable explanations regarding establishment of the HME. Their dubious statements before the Panamagate joint investigation team (JIT) raised further questions that remained unanswered.

Azizia Steel Mills

The Sharif family had established Azizia Steel Mills in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after being forced into exile, with an initial capital of Rs7 billion. After the death of family head Mian Mohammad Sharif, the mill was sold to an Al-Tuwairqi Group conglomerate.

The family appears to have wrapped up the major business in Saudi Arabia and only holds diversified investments there. Furthermore, Saudi royals’ facilitated the Sharifs by manipulating their own laws, the NAB source said, adding that “Hussain Nawaz claimed that the Saudi Royals’ facilitated the Sharif family to acquire land for Azizia Steel Company at a low price by declaring it a barren agricultural land.”

According to Hussain, the land, though situated in an industrial zone, was declared “a barren agricultural land” so that the Sharif family can acquire it for the future use of Azizia Steel Company. Once the barren agricultural land – that has a very low price in Saudi Arabia – was acquired, it was declared an industrial land as a favour to the Sharif family, the source added.

In his statement before the JIT, Hussain Nawaz said that $0.65 million had been spent on purchasing the land and $6m spent on it and that money was received from Qatari adjustment and one unnamed Saudi friend gave $8m for the purpose. He did not give any details of these transactions. Moreover, the UAE government also denied any such transportation.

Hill Metal Company

According to the JIT, Hussain Nawaz’s Hill Metal Company earned a profit of $9,977,882 from 2010 to 2015 and $4,042,603 had been sent to Nawaz Sharif during that period. The former premier received $8,913,301 in terms of gifts from the company and Hussain, which equals to 88 per cent profit of the company.

Hussain Nawaz also made remittances of around Rs69.228m to his sister from HME in 2008 and 2009, the JIT report said. According to the records provided, the accumulated amount did not reach even near to an amount enough to establish HME, the source said.

Regarding the question of the ownership of the HME, Hussain Nawaz claimed that he was the sole owner of the said establishment.

Sixteen other off-shore companies owned by the Sharif family are: Flagship Investments, Hartstone Properties, Que Holdings, Quint Eaton Place 2, Quint Saloane, Quaint, Flagship Securities, Quint Gloucester Place, Quint Paddington, Flagship Developments, Alanna Services (BVI), Lankin SA (BVI), Chadron, Ansbacher, Coomber and Capital FZE (Dubai).

Avenfield Apartments

According to the JIT report, the Sharifs had given contradictory statements about their London flats while the flats actually belonged to them since 1993.

The report said Hassan Nawaz had contradicted the statement of his brother Hussain Nawaz about the Avenfield apartments, who had earlier stated that only apartment No 17 was in his possession in 1994.

Contrarily, Hassan confirmed that three Avenfield apartments (No 16, 16A and 17) were already in possession of Hussain when he had arrived in London in 1994, while they got the possession of the fourth apartment (17A) in the next six months.

The JIT observed that either one or both brothers had lied to hide some facts and hence they could not be given the benefit of doubt. It said Nawaz Sharif had distanced himself from the apartments and could not explain the time frame and procedure adopted for obtaining the possession of Avenfield apartments by his sons, and was even uncertain about which son claimed the ownership of the flats now. But he told the JIT that he usually stayed in apartment No 16 (Avenfield) whenever he visited London.

Media’s speculations over ‘incomplete’ HME reference

Just an hour after the NAB filed four references, the news channels reported that the accountability court registrar had deemed the references “incomplete” after scrutiny. It was said that the registrar objected that NAB had not provided complete copies [of the references] to the court, rendering them incomplete.

It was said that the registrar had raised objections to the reference pertaining to Azizia Steel Mills and directed NAB to submit additional documents in this regard.

NAB spokesperson Asim Ali Nawazish was quick to respond to these speculations and said, “NAB has filed four references in accountability court and all the references have been accepted by the said court and the matter has been referred for a trial”.

Possibilities ahead for the Sharifs

The Sharif family and Dar can face up to 14 years imprisonment, heavy fines, and freezing of property if the accountability courts rule that a violation of Section 9 of the NAB Ordinance 1999 has taken place as suggested in the report of the JIT report. Moreover, the accused may also be disqualified from holding public office for life if found guilty. The likely political heiress to Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz can face a term of three years in prison for her submission of fake documents before the court.

No decision was taken about the possible arrest of the Sharif family members and putting their names on the Exit Control List (ECL) as the NAB chairman had reportedly refused to do so. Usually, the anti-graft watchdog issues arrest orders for the accused even in petty white-collar crime cases. However, the ball is in the judges’ court now and they can order the arrest of the former prime minister and his children and even Dar.

Background of Panama case

After the Supreme Court announced Sharif’s disqualification as prime minister, NAB was ordered to file references against the former PM, his children, son-in-law, and Dar. The bureau was given six weeks, from the date of the court’s order, to file the references in accountability courts.

NAB’s Rawalpindi branch prepared references regarding the Azizia Steel Mills and the nearly dozen companies owned by the Sharif family. The bureau’s Lahore branch prepared a reference on the Sharif family’s Avenfield apartments in London and another against Dar for owning assets beyond his known sources of income.

“It was decided to file four references in the accountability courts in Islamabad/Rawalpindi. The references were prepared on the basis of the material collected and referred to by the JIT in its report and any other material collected by NAB during the course of investigation,” said a NAB press release on Thursday.