ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday decided to set January 21 as the date for hearing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s plea against the Al-Azizia verdict that sentenced him to seven years in jail.
On Wednesday, IHC had admitted Nawaz’s petition seeking early hearing of his appeals. Justice Amir Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani had directed the registrar’s office to fix the earliest date possible for hearing his petition.
An accountability court on Dec 24 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.
The case pertained 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. He, however, was acquitted in the Flagship reference.
Following the verdict, Nawaz moved the IHC against the verdict in Al-Azizia. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) also filed appeals against verdicts in the Al-Azizia and Flagship references.
NAB maintained that giving Nawaz benefit of the doubt in Flagship case was contrary to law, arguing that solid evidence had been submitted against the former premier. Similarly, the anti-graft body stated that Nawaz’s sentence in Al-Azizia case should also be extended.
It may be noted here that the IHC had suspended sentences given to the Sharif family in the Avenfield case after they filed two petitions, appealing the verdict and seeking bail.
The ex-PM, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Captain (r) Safdar Awan were sentenced to 10, seven and one year of rigorous imprisonment by a NAB court.
The high court had observed that the accountability court verdict was based on “prima facie, tentative opinion”. It found NAB to have failed to prove the corruption charges.
“The petitioners were alleged to have acquired Avenfield Apartments by corrupt, dishonest or illegal means.” Yet, the accountability court in its judgment held that “the prosecution has not brought evidence in respect of Section 9 (a)(iv) NAO, 1999]. So the accused are acquitted under that section of law.”
The IHC’s decision to suspend the sentences at the time didn’t go down well with the SC after NAB moved it in this regard.
“Prima facie the IHC had spoiled the country’s jurisprudence by suspending an accountability court’s verdict in the corruption reference but now we have no other option but to suspend the IHC’s ruling,” he said.
The petition filed by NAB challenging the IHC decision is currently being heard by a five-member apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, which will resume the case on Jan 14.