–Wajid Zia says deposed PM was one of the shareholders in the mill, JIT found no evidence that proves his ownership of entity
ISLAMABAD: Panamagate Joint Investigation Team (JIT) head Wajid Zia on Thursday told the accountability court that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was not the owner but one of the shareholders of the Al-Azizia Steel Mills .
The statement came as the former prime minister’s legal counsel Khawaja Harris started the cross-examination of the prosecution’s star witness in the Al-Azizia reference against Sharif family. Zia, an additional director at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), headed the Panama JIT which probed the Sharif family’s assets last year.
Nawaz and his family members are facing three corruption references in the accountability court — Avenfield Properties, Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments — in which they are accused of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets.
During the cross-examination, Zia admitted that the JIT could not obtain evidence or any document to substantiate its claim that Nawaz was the owner of Al-Azizia Steel Mills. When Zia was asked how the JIT drew the conclusion that Nawaz was a shareholder of the mills, the witness referred to the statements of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz which they had recorded before the JIT last year during the two-month-long probe of the Panama Papers case.
He read out the statement of Shehbaz and quoted the younger Sharif as saying, “I do know [that] there were three shareholders namely Hussain Nawaz, Rabia Shahbaz [Shahbaz’s daughter] and Abbas Sharif.” Zia further stated before the court that Nawaz himself confirmed that fact as well.
According to him, the real owner of Al-Azizia Steel Mills was Nawaz but it was being operated by his son Hussain.
However, Khawaja Harris asked him to revisit the JIT report and reminded him that Nawaz in his statement before the JIT had said that his father Mian Mohammad Sharif had set up Al-Azizia Steel Mills and later apportioned its shareholding since he wanted an equitable distribution of shares among his family members. As per Zia, Hussain was in fact representing Nawaz Sharif in the shareholding. He, however, admitted that there was no evidence that could prove Nawaz was the owner of the mills nor has any witness recorded any statement with the JIT in this regard.
Responding to other questions by Harris, Zia said that there was no proof with the JIT that Nawaz ever sent any amount for setting up Al-Azizia Mills or received anything from the sale proceeds of the said mills. He further admitted that Nawaz never personally operated Al-Azizia Steel Mills.
At the outset of Thursday’s hearing, Harris asked Zia questions related to the wealth statement and transactions in Nawaz’s bank accounts.
Zia stated that during the financial year 2010-2011, Nawaz received USD 1.15 million from his son Hussain and Hill Metal Establishment (HME).
NAB special prosecutor Wasiq Malik objected to the question, saying that the witness had not said anything about the wealth statement while recording his statement before the accountability court. Harris on the other hand pointed out that Zia had claimed that there were some anomalies in Nawaz’s financial statements, therefore, he is obliged to respond with relevant questions.
The defence counsel then asked multiple questions related to Nawaz’s foreign currency account and his financial statement for the year 2010-11.
When Harris asked Zia whether the JIT had ascertained the value of foreign currency in the amount given in Nawaz’s wealth statement, the latter responded that the investigation team determined the value of foreign currency deposited in the bank account in accordance with the prevalent rate of US dollar. He, however, conceded that the JIT report had not applied the prevalent exchange rate for the amount shown in Nawaz’s wealth statement.
Accountability Judge Muhammad Bashir then adjourned the proceedings till Friday.