–Court acquits former PM in Flagship Investment case due to insufficient evidence, NAB to challenge acquittal
–Orders federal govt to approach Saudi govt for seizure of Nawaz’s Hill Metal properties
–Nawaz Sharif to serve imprisonment in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail on own request
ISLAMABAD: An accountability court on Monday sentenced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference and ordered that his Hill Metal Establishment properties be seized.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs1.5 billion and $25 million on Nawaz — a total of Rs5bn. A disqualification of 10 years from holding any public office is part of the sentences awarded to Nawaz and will go into effect following his release from jail after serving the seven-year sentence.
His sons — Hussain and Hassan Nawaz — residing in London have been absconding since the proceedings began last year and were declared proclaimed offenders by the court.
The reference pertains to the Sharifs being unable to justify the source of the funds provided to set up Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, making this a case of owning assets beyond means.
READ DETAILED VERDICT:
The former premier, however, was acquitted in the Flagship Investments reference.
Accountability Judge Arshad Malik, while reading out the short order, said there was no case against Nawaz in the Flagship reference. He also ordered the government to approach the Saudi government for seizure of the Hill Metal properties owned by the former premier.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) announced that it would appeal against the verdict.
NAWAZ TO BE JAILED IN LAHORE:
Following the judgement, Nawaz was taken into custody from the courtroom. His lawyer Khawaja Haris requested the judge that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo be shifted to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Central Jail instead of Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. The court, after reserving its verdict on the request, agreed but said he would be sent to Adiala for the night and to Kot Lakhpat on Tuesday.
‘BETTER CLASS JAIL’:
After Nawaz’s arrival at the Adiala Jail, doctors carried out his medical tests after which they declared his health satisfactory.
Meanwhile, the former premier has been provided ‘Better Class’ jail facilities in the prison. He has been given a blanket and other daily use items. Also, he is allowed to get food and utensils from home.
The ex-premier is expected to be shifted to the Kot Lakhpat Jail during the next 24 hours.
The verdict ─ initially expected between 9am and 10am ─ was announced almost immediately after Nawaz arrived in the courtroom close to 2:45pm.
Judge Malik, while reading out the short order, said that the former premier was indicted in the Al-Azizia reference under Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
Section 9(a)(v) says: “A holder of a public office, or any other person, is said to commit or to have committed the offence of corruption and corrupt practices if he or any of his dependents or benamidar owns, possesses, or has acquired right or title in any assets or holds irrevocable power of attorney in respect of any assets or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, which he cannot reasonably account for, or maintains a standard of living beyond that which is commensurate with his sources of income.”
The short order said that the burden of proof lies on Nawaz in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case.
On December 19, the accountability court had reserved its verdict in the cases. The former premier holds the right to challenge the verdict within 10 days.
Meanwhile, supporters of the PML-N and police clashed outside the premises of the court upon Nawaz’s arrival hours before the verdict was announced.
Judge Malik on Dec 19 had reserved judgement in both the references filed by NAB against the former premier.
The two references concern the setting up of the Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment in the United Kingdom. The accountability court charged Nawaz in both references under Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
According to NAB’s special prosecutor, the case against the Sharifs revolved around finding out how the family’s companies were established and through which resources.
According to a plea by the Sharif family in court, Nawaz’s father, the late Mian Mohammad Sharif established Gulf Steel Mills (GSM) in the UAE in 1974.
Seventy-five per cent shares of GSM were sold to Abdullah Kayed Ahli and the entity was re-named Ahli Steel Mills (ASM) in 1978 and the remaining 25pc shares were further sold to the ASM in 1980. This yielded an amount of AED 12 million which was invested with the Qatari royal family.
While the Sharifs were in exile, the late Mian Sharif had provided AED 5.4m for Hussain Nawaz and AED 4.2m for Hasan Nawaz to establish Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment and 16 other companies in the UK.
According to the prosecution, the Sharif family failed to justify the source of the funds provided to set up the firms, making this a case of owning assets beyond means.
The Sharif family took the stance that it was out of the AED 12m that the late Mian Sharif invested with the Qatari royal family. Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, however, did not appear before the joint investigation team (JIT) to verify the details, said the prosecution.
During the final arguments, the defence attorney maintained that the JIT made no serious effort to record the prince’s testimony, since this would have benefited the defence’s case.
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 Sept 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.