SC rejects NAB’s appeal against suspension of Sharifs’ Avenfield sentence


–Five-member bench says accountability watchdog failed to provide grounds for cancellation of bail


ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday dismissed the appeal of the top accountability watchdog against the suspension of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (r) Safdar’s sentences in the Avenfield properties reference.

A five-member bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel heard the appeals.

On September 19, 2018, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suspended the respective sentences of Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and Safdar in the matter to which National Accountability Bureau (NAB) invoked the apex court’s appellate jurisdiction on October 22, 2018.

In July 2018, an accountability court had handed Nawaz Sharif 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and 1 year for not cooperating with NAB. His daughter Maryam was given seven years for abetment after she was found “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” and one year for non-cooperation with the bureau. Meanwhile, Captain (r) Safdar has been given one year jail time — for not cooperating with NAB, and aiding and abetting Nawaz and Maryam.

Upholding the IHC’s decision, the apex court bench dismissed NAB’s request observing that the accountability watchdog had failed to provide the “grounds for cancellation of bail”.

The IHC did not exceed its authority in granting bail to the convicts of the Avenfield reference, the bench observed.

As the hearing went underway, Justice Ahmed said, “It is not necessary that an appeal in the top court can undermine a high court verdict,” adding that the bench will look into the merits of the case.

He further asked NAB prosecutor Akram Qureshi to “convince [the bench] why the high court’s ruling should be suspended”.

“Part of the verdict that granted bail was not challenged,” added Justice Ahmed. “Mere high court remarks can’t be used as a basis to suspend the awarded sentence.”

Qureshi further said that “a bail can only be granted in certain circumstances and the high court did not shed light upon any such circumstance”.

Furthermore, the NAB prosecutor stated that the lower court had questioned “the merit of the trial in its judgement — something he said a high court cannot do in a bail plea”.

“Nawaz Sharif was granted bail on the same grounds that had led to his conviction,” observed Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who was also part of the bench. “You did not challenge those grounds.”

The chief justice added that observations of an interim order do not have an effect on the submitted appeal.

He further said that the high court had mentioned that it’s “observation was not final”.

“Nawaz Sharif is already behind the bars. He did not misuse the bail, and regularly appeared in the trial court [for hearings],” Justice Khosa remarked.

Towards the end of the hearing, CJP Nisar asked the NAB counsel, on what grounds should the apex court suspend the bail. “Rules of granting a bail differ from rules of suspending a bail.”

On November 12, after taking up the appeals, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) referred the matter to a larger bench to decide as many as 18 questions of law, including whether a detailed order of the IHC in the matter, consisting 41 pages, is permissible while dealing with the suspension of sentence.