Sharifs challenge graft convictions in high court

  • Accountability judge recuses himself from other two references against Sharifs
  • Seven separate appeals filed by lawyers of convicted ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Capt (r) Safdar
  • Appeals seek convicts’ release on bail until IHC rules on accountability court’s verdict in Avenfield reference
  • Khawaja Harif says NAB failed to establish Nawaz’s ownership of London properties

ISLAMABAD: Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Captain (r) Muhammad Safdar challenged their conviction by the accountability court in the Avenfield reference in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) as the 10-day deadline for the review petition expired on Monday.

Meanwhile, Justice Mohammad Bashir, the accountability court judge who sentenced Nawaz Sharif and others in the Avenfield properties reference, has recused himself from hearing the other two corruption references against the former premier and his family, Geo News reported.

Seven separate appeals were filed by the three convicts’ lawyers ─ three on behalf of Nawaz and two each on behalf of Maryam and Safdar ─ pertaining to their conviction in the corruption reference.

The appeal, filed by Nawaz’s legal counsel Khawaja Haris and Maryam and Safdar’s lawyer Amjad Pervaiz, highlights flaws in the Avenfield judgement and asks the IHC to declare accountability court’s verdict null and void and release the three convicts on bail.

Sharif family’s lawyers met them on Saturday in Adiala jail to obtain their signatures on the papers of attorney.

According to the media outlet, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had received a letter from Justice Bashir recusing himself from hearing Al-Azizia and Flagship references against Nawaz Sharif and his family. The judge has requested for transfer of cases to another court in the letter.

He stated that he had announced the verdict of Avenfield properties case and could not hear Al-Azizia and Flagship references and if required, then he could also be transferred.

The accountability court judge noted that Nawaz’s counsel had also objected to him hearing the other two cases. The media outlet reported that the letter was written to the IHC Chief Justice Anwar Kasi two days ago, who is on a leave.

Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were jailed a couple of hours after a team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) formally arrested them at the Lahore airport on their arrival from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Friday night, as several thousand party supporters gathered on the streets of Lahore to ‘welcome’ their leaders.

Three appeals were filed by Advocate Haris urging the IHC to set aside the accountability court’s verdict in the Avenfield reference and to suspend the conviction sentence until the IHC adjudicated on the main appeals. The third appeal requests the court to transfer the Al-Azizia and Flagship corruption references against Nawaz from the court of Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir to another accountability court in Islamabad.

Two appeals each were filed by Amjad Pervaiz urging the IHC to set aside the accountability court’s verdict in the Avenfield corruption reference, while the second requested the suspension of the NAB court’s verdict until the IHC adjudicates on the appeals.

The appeals stated that Accountability Judge Bashir had passed the Avenfield verdict on the basis of presumptions and assumptions, without fulfilling the “requirements of justice”.

They argued that until the IHC adjudicates on the appeals against the accountability court’s decision, the convicts should be released on bail.

They claimed that the chart of the Sharif family’s assets and liabilities as their “known sources of income”, which was produced in the accountability court, was not submitted by the head of the Panama Papers case joint investigation team ─ who was NAB’s star witness ─ and did not bear the signatures of any officials either.

Khawaja Haris, in an appeal filed on behalf of Nawaz, pointed out that NAB had declared that the Avenfield flats were worth more than the former premier’s known income, but had failed to take into account the value of the flats at the time of their purchase. One of the appeals added that the prosecution had provided no evidence establishing Nawaz as the owner of the London flats.

The appeals also referred to the contentious use of Calibri font in the trust deed, saying that forensic expert Robert Radley had admitted that the font had been in existence at the time the trust deed was prepared.

Referring to the use of Calibri font in the trust deeds submitted by Maryam to the joint investigation team (JIT) during the Panama Papers case investigation, one of the appeals argued that the creator of the font, Robert Radley, had admitted that the font had existed at the time when the deeds were prepared.

Khawaja Haris urged the court to transfer the two remaining corruption references against Nawaz — Flagship Enterprises and Al Azizia — to another accountability judge since the arguments in both cases were similar to the ones in the Avenfield reference. Nawaz’s counsel argued that since the evidence in both the cases was similar, the verdict may be the same if heard by the same judge.

Last week, the Sharif family had filed a petition to move the two corruption references out of Accountability Court-I’s Judge Muhammad Bashir. Remarking that only the high court held the mandate to transfer the case, Judge Bashir had rejected the transfer petition.

The petitioners observed that the court had announced the verdict in absentia, even though the Sharifs had appealed to the court to delay the judgement for seven days.

At the time of the verdict, both Nawaz and Maryam were in London where Kulsoom Nawaz, who is battling cancer, is reportedly on life support. Safdar was in Pakistan but was not present in court.

After almost 10 months of continuous trial, an accountability court found former premier Nawaz and two of his family members guilty in one of the four corruption references filed against them in line with the apex court’s July 28, 2017 order and awarded them “rigorous imprisonment” and heavy financial penalties.

The accused were also disqualified to contest election or to hold public office for a period of 10 years to be reckoned from the date they are released after serving the sentence and they shall not be allowed to apply for or to be granted or allowed any financial facilities in the form of a loan for a period of 10 years from the date of their conviction within the meaning of section 15 of NAO 1999.

The historic decision was to be announced earlier but after multiple delays, the judge read out the operative paragraphs of the 174-page judgment at around 4:30 in the absence of the accused.


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