—Court orders Nawaz, Maryam, Safdar’s release from Adiala Jail against surety bonds of Rs0.5m each
—Sentence to remain suspended until final adjudication on appeals
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday suspended the sentences of former premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, son-in-law Captain (r) Muhammad Safdar in Avenfield case while ordering the release of the three convicted by the accountability court.
The court ordered the release of Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain (r) Safdar from Adiala Jail against the surety bonds of 0.5 million each.
Authorities at Adiala jail received the court order of Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar’s release in the evening.
During a meeting with Shehbaz Sharif and other PML-N in the office of jail superintendent, Nawaz said that he had always believed that he was innocent. “I haven’t committed any wrong. My conscience is clear,” he added.
“ALLAH always sides with the right,” he said.
PML-N leaders Sardar Mehtab and Murtaza Javed Abbasi were also present during the meeting.
In its Avenfield decision, Judge Muhammad Bashir had sentenced Nawaz to 10 years imprisonment, Maryam to seven years and Safdar to one-year imprisonment. The accused were also disqualified to contest elections or to hold public office for a period of 10 years after release.
The IHC has suspended the sentences until the court decides on appeals filed by the Sharif family challenging their conviction.
Following the conviction, the Sharif family had filed several petitions seeking suspension of their sentences besides filing appeals challenging the convictions. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), however, raised objections to the court’s hearing of the petitions first instead of appeals, saying they were filed under “an irrelevant section of law”.
Moreover, NAB is waiting for the attested copy of the judgement following which it will move the Supreme Court against the IHC’s verdict.
A two-judge bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb heard the petitions filed by former premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (r) Safdar challenging the Avenfield verdict against them.
Justice Minallah read the judgement and ordered the release of the former premier, his daughter and son-in-law.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif was present in the courtroom along with Mushahiddullah Khan, Raja Zafarul Haq and others as the NAB prosecutor commenced his arguments.
NAB special prosecutor Mohammad Akram Qureshi concluded his final arguments, following which the high court reserved the verdict in the case.
The sentences will remain suspended until the final adjudication of the appeals filed by the petitioners.
Following the judgment, Senator Chaudhary Tanvir submitted bail bonds for Nawaz, Maryam and Capt Safdar at the deputy registrar’s office.
According to jail officials, the trio will be released today if the order is received prior to the expiration of lock-up time. It was also reported that the three are to be released today and will be taken to Lahore via a special flight.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the bench had directed Qureshi to conclude his arguments within 30 minutes and said that a verdict will be announced on Wednesday even if arguments are not concluded.
In its order issued after Tuesday’s proceedings, an IHC division bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb had said that the court would pass an order on the petitions even if the NAB prosecution failed to conclude the arguments.
It may be mentioned that NAB has been fined twice for filing frivolous pleas using delaying tactics on the matter.
The IHC bench had last month with the consent of both the counsel for the Sharif family and the prosecution decided to conclude the hearing within a week, but NAB in an unprecedented move sought an adjournment, saying it would file a reply after the defence counsel concluded his arguments.
Subsequently, the court had imposed a fine of Rs10,000 on NAB for delaying the matter and adjour¬ned the hearing till Sept 10.
Last week, the IHC bench with the consent of both sides had decided that the defence counsel would conclude the arguments by Wednesday and the prosecution by Monday (Sept 17).
However, when the court resumed the hearing on Monday, NAB Additional Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi informed that lead prosecutor Mohammad Akram Qureshi had challenged in the Supreme Court the IHC’s decision of proceeding with the petitions seeking suspension of the accountability court’s verdict instead of hearing the appeals against conviction of the Sharif family members in the Avenfield properties reference.
An SC bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had termed the NAB petition “frivolous” and slapped a fine of Rs20,000 on the anti-corruption watchdog.
The concluding arguments were presented by NAB’s prosecutor Akram Qureshi, following which the high court announced its verdict.
Qureshi said that “after the fixation of appeals against the conviction of the Sharif family in the Avenfield reference, the IHC could not have entertained petitions seeking suspension of sentence”.
As the NAB prosecutor argued over the sale of Gulf Steel Mills in 1978, the court questioned that how were the 12 million Dirhams that were paid for the mill transferred.
Qureshi responded that the petitioners had stated that they invested 12 million Dirhams in Qatari prince’s business and presented the settlement as money trail for Avenfield apartments. According to them, the basis of money for the purchase of the London flats was these 12 million Dirhams but during the investigation, it was found that the settlement agreement presented was fake and that the Dubai government had no record of the sale of 25 per cent shares sold later.
Qureshi further said that Maryam had, through a different plea in the Supreme Court, adopted the stance and submitted documents in the top court which mentioned business matters with the Qatari family.
The NAB prosecutor maintained that the accused had adopted a similar stance before NAB that the money for the purchase of London flats was received through the sale of Gulf Steel Mills.
Qureshi argued that Nawaz is the real owner of the flats as documents were faked to hide the ownership.
When asked about any evidence linking Nawaz’s ownership of the flats after such a lengthy investigation, the prosecutor answered in negative.
“Till 2012, Maryam was the beneficial owner of these flats and then became a trustee through a fake trust deed.” He added, “Calibri font was used in this trust deed and the font did not exist at the time.”
Qureshi further claimed that dates were changed in the trust deed.
Moreover, he stated that since Maryam had prepared a forged declaration of trust in order to rescue her father, “she was equally responsible as she connived to dodge the legal course”.
Qureshi further argued that Maryam was living with her father as a dependent and so “the properties in her name presumably belonged to her father”.
At this point, Justice Aurangzeb said, “Assuming Maryam presented fake documents, please tell us how she was sentenced for owning assets beyond her known sources of income.”
Following this, the NAB prosecutor said the defence counsels should also be questioned. However, the bench observed that he has to conclude arguments and thus will be questioned.
When the bench asked how old Maryam was in 1993, the NAB prosecutor said she was 20.
“Your stance is that Nawaz bought the flats in 1993, so then how did this become a case regarding Maryam owning assets beyond her known sources of income? Your case is that Nawaz is the real owner not Maryam,” the bench observed.
Stating that he, in fact, is saying that Nawaz is the real owner, not Maryam, Qureshi said, “It’s not me but the law that asks you to assume this.”
Justice Athar Minallah remarked that “the NAB, after conducting a thorough investigation, couldn’t bring any evidence of Nawaz Sharif’s ownership of the Avenfield apartments,” adding that “you want us to admit his ownership on mere presumption”.
Qureshi responded that the “law of evidence empowers the court to presume facts in certain situations”. The court has also been informed about the Supreme Court judgment, he added.
“That was a minority judgment,” Justice Minallah remarked.
Qureshi further said that “since the properties belong to a foreign jurisdiction, therefore, it is a distinguished case and these were not applicable to this case”.
When asked regarding his stance that the children’s grandfather did not own a business there, the NAB prosecutor said, “It is the children’s stance that Tariq Shafi overlooked their grandfather’s business.”
Meanwhile, the lead defence counsel Khawaja Haris said that “since the NAB law relates to foreign properties, the stance taken by NAB is without any legal force”.
NAB TO CHALLENGE VERDICT:
On the other hand, NAB has decided to challenge the ruling of the IHC that freed Sharif family members temporarily.
The decision to challenge the ruling was taken during a meeting of the bureau presided over by its Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal.
The NAB will file an appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court once it gets a copy of the ruling.