Decide Sharifs’ fate within one month, NAB court told

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  • Chief Justice Saqib Nisar directs accountability court to hear the case six days a week
  • Rejects Nawaz’s counsel request of completing proceedings in six weeks
  • Says Nawaz, Maryam can visit ailing Kulsoom in London

LAHORE: The Supreme Court on Sunday directed the accountability court to wrap up the trial against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members in the corruption references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) within a month.

During the hearing of an application seeking third extension for concluding trials against the Sharif family, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar rejected the plea filed by deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s counsel, Khawaja Harris, to complete the trial in six weeks, instead asked the accountability court to conclude trial in all three references within one month by fixing daily hearings, including Saturdays.

“You people advertise the fact that the [accountability] court does not let them [Sharifs] visit Kulsoom Nawaz,” the chief justice remarked during the case, adding that if Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer was to give the apex court even a verbal application, it would allow the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo to visit his ailing wife.

On July 28 last year, a five-member SC bench in its Panama Papers judgment had directed NAB to file references against Nawaz and his children, and the trial court to decide the references within six months.

The corruption references, filed against the Sharifs, pertain to the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment, offshore companies including Flagship Investment Ltd, and Avenfield properties of London.

Nawaz and sons Hussain and Hasan are accused in all three references whereas his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Safdar are accused in the Avenfield reference only.

The two brothers, based abroad, have been absconding since the proceedings began last year and were declared proclaimed offenders by the court. Their trial in the high-profile corruption case has been separated from other family members’ owing to their continued absence.

In March, the apex court had granted a two-month extension to the accountability court to complete the proceedings. When the trial could not be completed in the stipulated time despite day-to-day hearings, the SC in May had granted one more month to decide the references. That deadline lapsed on Saturday.

The accountability court is hearing final arguments in the Avenfield properties reference. The counsel of Sharif has challenged accountability judge Mohammad Bashir’s order of hearing final arguments, saying that it is contrary to what the judge had ruled earlier according to which the court was supposed to proceed in all references — Avenfield properties, Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment — simultaneously since the key evidence in the three references is the same.

On Monday, the accountability court is set to witness cross-examination of the NAB’s key witness, Wajid Zia, in Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment reference.

The accountability court fixed Avenfield reference for Tuesday after NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi concluded his arguments on Friday. Defence counsel Khawaja Haris and Amjad Pervaiz are now expected to present final arguments in the Avenfield reference.

Once the statements are recorded, defence counsel Khawaja Harris would cross-examine the witnesses. Subsequently, the accused standing trial would record statement in the references and produce witness in defence, if needed, and after that the NAB and defence counsel would present arguments in the cases.

Following the arguments, both the parties would give rebuttal and then the court is expected to reserve verdict or go for pronouncement of judgment.

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