Sharifs’ counsel to be present during recording of video statements in Avenfield case

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–Nawaz Sharif also challenges accountability court’s order to allow video statements of witnesses in same reference

 

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday accepted Maryam Nawaz and her husband Muhammad Safdar’s plea seeking permission to allow a representative and defence counsel at the Pakistan High Commission in London during the recording of witnesses’ statements in the graft reference pertaining to the Avenfield Apartments case.

A petition had already been filed Maryam Nawaz and Muhammad Safdar on Wednesday; however, earlier in the day Nawaz also filed a petition challenging the court order in relation to the permission of video link recording of the testimony.

The father and daughter moved the IHC after the accountability court on February 2 allowed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to record statements of two witnesses of prosecution via video link at the high commission.

On Thursday, the court heard both the petitions together.

During the hearing, the division bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb partially allowed the plea after hearing the arguments from both sides.

It directed the authorities concerned to make sure presence of the representative of the petitioner during the examination of witnesses at the Pakistan High Commission in London.

The court observed that the plea of the petitioners was based on justice, so their representative should be allowed at the time of the recording of the testimony.

Presenting his arguments, Sharif family’s consul Amjad Pervaiz took the stance that in a criminal trial the attendance of the witnesses before a court was necessary unless the same was dispensed with the subject to the conditions mentioned in the Section-503 CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure).

As per the declaration attached with the expert report, the witness Robert M Radley, the principal at the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory, declared that he may attend the court for cross-examination, and he had not made his attendance conditional.

The reason for the excuse to attend the court is just an afterthought and prompted by malafide intentions, he added.

Radley, being a forensic examiner, had revealed that the type font used in trust deeds of two companies in Panama Papers case was Calibri, which was not commercially available before January 31, 2007, and the documents were prepared and signed on an earlier date.

The Sharifs’ consul Pervaiz alleged that the order to allow the use of video link was also a violation of fundamental right of access to justice, treatment in accordance with law, due process and fair trial guaranteed vid Article 10 (A) of the Constitution.

Pervaiz said that the option of forming a commission was available before the trial court yet it proceeded to allow the examination through video link without any legal justification.

While passing the impugned order, he said, the court did not keep in view even the minimum safeguards as to rule out the possibility of tutoring, coaching and prompting of the prosecution witnesses and has felt satisfied and contended with the examination of the witnesses through video link in the high commission without any representation of either of the parties.

He requested the court to declare ‘impugned order’ — dated February 2– illegal and without any lawful authority. Or, in an alternative, the order should be modified with directions for adequate representation of the petitioners during the examination of the witnesses at the Pakistan High Commission in London, the consul prayed the court.

NAB Deputy Prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar objected to the petitioner’s reservations, saying the accused were using delaying tactics in the case.

THE REFERENCES:

The NAB has in total filed three references against the Sharif family and another against the then-finance minister Ishaq Dar in the accountability court, in light of the Supreme Court’s orders in the Panama Papers case verdict of July 28.

The anti-graft body was given six weeks, from the date of the apex court’s order, to file the reference in an accountability court while the accountability court was granted six months to wrap up the proceedings.

The references against the Sharif family pertain to the Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metals Establishment, their London properties, and over dozen offshore companies owned by the family.

Maryam and Safdar are only nominated in the London properties reference. At an earlier hearing, the court also approved Maryam and Safdar’s bail in the Avenfield properties case and ordered them to submit surety bonds worth Rs5 million each.

Safdar was also directed to take the court’s permission before leaving the country from now on. The judge also provided a copy of the reference — spread over 53 volumes — to Maryam and Safdar.

NAB’s Rawalpindi branch prepared two references regarding the Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metals Establishment, and the nearly dozen companies owned by the Sharif family.

Its Lahore branch prepared a reference on the Sharif family’s Avenfield apartments in London and another against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar for owning assets beyond his known sources of income.

If convicted, the accused may face up to 14 years imprisonment and lifelong disqualification from holding public office including the freezing of bank accounts and assets.

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