–Two-judge bench says former PM’s petition will be heard when date is set for hearing of appeal against verdict
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday postponed the hearing of a petition filed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif seeking the suspension of the jail sentence handed to him by an accountability court in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills/Hill Metals Establishment reference.
Accountability Judge Arshad Malik had on Dec 24, 2018, convicted Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference and awarded him seven years imprisonment, besides imposing fines of Rs1.5 billion and $25 million on the PML-N supremo.
On Monday, a two-judge bench headed by IHC Chief Justice Ather Minallah decided to indefinitely postpone the matter as the petition cannot be heard unless the appeal is set for hearing. The petition will be taken up when a date is set for the hearing of the appeal.
Nawaz’s lead defence lawyer Khawaja Haris insisted that the court hear the case as the appeal has been fixed for hearing after the court holidays, which end on Tuesday.
Last week, the IHC Registrar’s Office had raised some administrative objections to the petition as the legal team submitted with it over 4,000 documents, including papers in foreign languages. Some documents were not readable due to which the petition was fixed for hearing after a delay.
A defence lawyer on Saturday removed these objections after which the Registrar’s Office fixed the case for a preliminary hearing.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has also filed appeals in the IHC seeking enhancement of Nawaz’s sentence from seven to 14 years. Additionally, the watchdog has challenged the former PM’s acquittal in the Flagship Investment reference.
The Supreme Court had on July 28, 2017, while deciding petitions of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and other political leaders, disqualified Nawaz Sharif and directed NAB to file three references — Avenfield Properties, Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment — against Sharif and other members of his family in the accountability court.
Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir had on July 6, 2018 convicted Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield reference and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. However, an IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb suspended the sentence in the Avenfield reference.
NAB has filed an appeal against the suspension of sentence, which is pending adjudication before the Supreme Court.
Hussain Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister’s elder son, claims that he received a sum of $5.4 million from his grandfather to establish the steel conglomerate in Saudi Arabia. The payment was made by a Qatari royal on the request of the elder Sharif. Thereafter, scrap machinery was transported from their Ahli Steel Mills in Dubai to Jeddah to establish Al-Azizia in 2001.
The JIT constituted to investigate the graft allegations insisted that the real owner of the mills was Nawaz Sharif, and it was being operated by his son on his behalf. Hussain was 29-years-old at the time. The JIT also held that Nawaz Sharif received 97 per cent profit as ‘gifts’ from Hill Metals Establishment, another company established by Hussain Nawaz Sharif in 2005, in Saudi Arabia.
Of the amount, Nawaz Sharif transferred 77 percent to his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif. (Maryam is not accused in this reference). Here as well, the NAB claims that since Sharif received a large profit from Hussain’s companies, he is the real owner and not his son. However, during the proceedings the NAB could not substantiate its claim through documentary evidences and instead placed the burden of proof on the accused.
On July 28, 2017, the Supreme Court verdict had, besides disqualifying then prime minister Nawaz from his position, also directed the accountability authority to file three references – regarding the family’s Avenfield Properties, Al-Azizia, and Flagship Investment – before the accountability court.
In September 2017, NAB filed three references against members of the Sharif family.
On July 6 this year, Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir handed down convictions to Nawaz, Maryam, and son-in-law Capt Mohammad Safdar (retd) in the Avenfield Properties reference and jailed them for 10 years, seven years and one year respectively.
But on September 19, the Islamabad High Court granted all three bail after suspending their sentences. NAB’s appeal against the suspension of the sentence remains pending before the SC.
Since September 2017, Nawaz has appeared before the accountability courts some 165 times, according to the former premier himself.