ISLAMABAD: The defence counsel for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday challenged the conviction of his client in the Avenfield illegal assets reference, saying Nawaz had been wrongly sentenced in the case even though he was not the owner of the expensive London property.
A two-judge bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb was hearing the petitions filed by the Sharif family challenging their conviction.
On July 6 this year, an accountability court had sentenced Nawaz to a total of 11 years in prison and slapped a £8 million fine (Rs1.3 billion) in the corruption reference while his daughter Maryam was sentenced to eight years with a £2 million fine (Rs335 million). Additionally, Nawaz’s son-in-law Capt (r) Safdar was given a one-year sentence without any fine.
On July 16, the legal counsels of the Sharifs had filed three separate appeals on behalf of their clients.
Nawaz’s counsel Khawaja Haris filed an appeal challenging the verdict against his client and requesting its suspension till IHC’s adjudication in the case. Similarly, Amjad Pervaiz filed the appeals on behalf of Maryam and Safdar. The Sharif family’s legal counsels had argued that the convicts should be released on bail till the IHC adjudicates on the matter.
During the hearing, Khawaja Haris said that he had not seen the statement of Panamagate Joint Investigation Team (JIT) head and prosecution’s star witness Wajid Zia regarding the ownership of Avenfield properties.
To this, Justice Miangul questioned, “If the ownership has not been mentioned then what will be its effect?”
Moreover, Haris said that if a “known-source is not known” then contradictions cannot be identified.
Justice Minallah also questioned, “Is it Nawaz’s stance that his father, Mian Sharif, distributed the property?” to which Haris said that Mian Sharif said that he has nothing to do with the properties of the investments.
To this, Justice Miangul asked whether an unnamed person has been mentioned in the judgement. Haris, in response, said, “The judgement only mentions guardianship.”
“Has anyone who is under guardianship been sentenced?” Justice Minallah questioned while adding that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) stated that Nawaz’s children were under his guardianship.
Haris, however, argued, “The children were not under Nawaz’s guardianship and there is no evidence of it on record.”
When Justice Minallah asked, under whose guardianship the children were in 1993, Nawaz’s counsel said, “Their grandfather was alive then.”
Further, in response to a question whether the business was joint during Mian Sharif’s lifetime, Haris said, “everyone was a shareholder”.
Nawaz’s counsel further said that the sentence and the indictment charges are contradictory.
“Wherever the properties have been mentioned, Nawaz’s son’s names are written and not his,” the former premier’s counsel upheld.
“The trial court judgement states that usually children are under the guardianship of their father and owing to that Nawaz is the owner,” he added.
Justice Minallah further remarked, “Children can also be under the guardianship of their grandfather. Was any evidence provided to show that they were under Nawaz’s guardianship?”
“Even Wajid Zia has said that there is no evidence or document to prove this,” Haris said.
Justice Miangul then asked Haris regarding his earlier statement that Zia did not come across the actual worth of the property in any document provided. “If the worth of the property has not been mentioned in some documents then what will be its effect?” he asked.
Moreover, responding to Justice Miangul, Haris said, “If the worth of the property has not been mentioned then how can a conclusion be reached?”
Without knowledge of the known sources of income and the worth of the flats, it was said that Nawaz owns assets beyond his known sources of income.
“Statements of witnesses are present but none mentioned the worth of the property,” he further said.
“In our system, whose guardianship are the children under? The border of proof is on NAB,” the judge said.
The bench then asked that if all three petitioners have the stance that Mian Sharif did the property settlement and asked if there is any document to prove that Nawaz is the owner of the flats.
Responding to Justice Miangul’s question whether Nawaz mentioned the Qatari prince during his speeches, Haris said he made no such mention.
Justice Minallah then turned to Maryam’s counsel, Amjad Pervez and said, “The sentence was not based on the issue of guardianship but an unnamed owner.”
“The trial court declared Maryam as beneficial owner and sentenced her for hiding her father’s property,” he said.
Pervez argued, “The indictment was not in line with NAB Ordinance Schedule 3A,” adding that “the Supreme Court had said that if it is proven that fake documents were submitted then that matter would be referred to the relevant forum.”
“NAB witness Robert Radley was not an expert in identifying fonts,” he added.
“Maryam’s role will only be proven after it is proven that Nawaz is the owner of the property,” the counsel added.
Justice Minallah said, “We have to look over the trial court judgement which states it is based on assumptions. A criminal sentence cannot be maintained on assumptions.”
At this point, NAB prosecutor Akram Qureshi said, “Only one-sided arguments have been heard so far and we will satisfy the court on all matters.
Justice Minallah then asked him who prepared the chart of Nawaz’s assets. “Answer based on the evidence, we do not want to delve into details but can briefly overlook the documents available.”