Nawaz Sharif challenges Al-Azizia verdict in IHC


–Former PM seeks suspension of sentence, claims accountability judge ‘betrayed his predisposition and exceeded his position as a trial judge’


ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday moved the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against his conviction in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case, for which he is currently serving a prison sentence, and also filed an application seeking the suspension of the sentence.

The petition will be heard by a two-member bench of the high court.

On Dec 24, 2018, the Accountability Court 2 of Islamabad had handed a seven-year rigorous imprisonment to Nawaz along with a fine of Rs1.5 billion and $25 million in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills/Hill Metal Establish­ment reference. It had, however, acquitted him in the Flagship Investments reference.

The accountability court, as part of the Al-Azizia Steel Mills judgement, had also barred the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo from holding public office for 10 years after completing his sentence. It had also ordered confiscation of the Hill Metal Establishment and issued perpetual warrants of arrest for his sons, Hussain and Hassan, who were declared proclaimed offenders.

Nawaz’s 61-page appeal against the verdict claims that the accountability court’s decision was based on misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the law. The available evidence, according to the three-time former prime minister, were not read correctly and that the judgement was made without considering the objections raised by the defence counsel, it added.

Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Haris, who filed the appeal, claimed that the judge “betrayed his predisposition and exceeded his position as a trial judge” during the hearing of the case.

The Al Azizia verdict said that the accused No 1 (Nawaz Sharif) was held guilty for the offence of corruption and corrupt practices and accordingly, is convicted under section 10 of the NAO 1999 ‘read with schedule thereto’.

“And consequent upon his conviction, having regard to the facts and the circumstances of the case, the convict is hereby sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term of seven years along with a fine of Rs1.2 billion and $25 million,” said the order.

According to the judgement, Sharif is disqualified to hold any public office for a period of ten years. Likewise, he will not be allowed to apply for or be granted or allowed any financial facilities in the form of loan or advances or other financial accommodation by any bank or financial institution owned or controlled by the government for a period of 10 years from the date.

The Supreme Court on July 28, 2016, disqualified Nawaz in the Panama Papers case and ordered NAB to file separate cases which were respectively called Avenfiled, Al Azizia and Flagship references.

Earlier this year, an accountability court had convicted the former premier, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Captain (r) Safdar Awan in Avenfield reference and sentenced them to 10, seven and one year of rigorous imprisonment.

The sentence was later suspended by the Islamabad High Court (IHC). The high court had observed that the accountability court verdict was based on “prima facie, tentative opinion”. It found NAB to have failed to prove the corruption charges.

“The petitioners were alleged to have acquired Avenfield Apartments by corrupt, dishonest or illegal means.” Yet, the accountability court in its judgment held that “Prosecution has not brought evidence in respect of Section 9 (a)(iv) NAO, 1999][4]. So the accused are acquitted under that section of law”

The petition filed by NAB challenging the IHC decision is currently being heard by an apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar.