Major relief to Nawaz Sharif as IHC acquits him in Avenfield reference

  • Next hurdle for Nawaz is appeal against conviction in Al-Azizia reference
  • PML-N supremo says grateful to Allah Almighty Who made him victorious today

ISLAMABAD: What is being described as a massive relief for the PML-N chief, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday acquitted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield reference.

The verdict was announced by a two-member bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb on Nawaz Sharif’s appeal against his conviction in the case.

The court dismissed the plea filed by the National Accountability Bureau in the Flagship reference against the PML-N supreme leader after the accountability watchdog withdrew it.

In July 2018, an accountability court had handed the PML-N leader 10 years in jail in the Avenfield properties corruption reference for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), both of which were to be served concurrently.

The IHC had declared him a proclaimed offender in the case in December 2020. After leaving for London on medical grounds, Nawaz remained there for nearly four years and only returned to the country last month.

Following his return from the UK, the PML-N leader had filed an application seeking the restoration of his appeal against his conviction.

He had contended that while he was abroad for medical treatment, the pen­­ding appeals were dismissed for non-prosecution. The plea req­u­ested the court to revive the pending appeal for a decision on them on merit. Last month, the IHC had restored the appeal in question.

Grateful to Allah Almighty for acquittal

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, the PML-N supremo said: “I thank God as I had left the entire matters on him. God has made us victorious today.”

The PML-N’s supreme leader said that he had entrusted his matters and problems, including the cases, to Allah Almighty.

Nawaz Sharif said that he was extremely grateful to the Almighty as he stood vindicated today by His grace.

Separately, in a post on X (formerly Twitter), Maryam Nawaz said today’s verdict showed how God vindicated those who put their unwavering trust in him.

Legal experts said the acquittal was a “long time coming”.

“If it had occurred when it was due back when the appeal was filed, it would be newsworthy. It would have been an example of justice being done,” they said.

They were of the view that currently, the only ones “feigning surprise about the weakness of the trial are the judges of the IHC”.

They said the next hurdle for the PML-N supremo would be his appeal against the conviction in Al-Azizia reference.

They said Nawaz’s conviction in the Al-Azizia reference would either need to be set aside or suspended for him to be able to contest the upcoming elections.

Interestingly, NAB which initially prosecuted these cases with extreme vigour has had a visibly different attitude at the appellate stage, they experts pointed out.

They asserted there was a Supreme Court judgment disqualifying Nawaz in the Panama Papers case under Article 62(1)(f) for not being ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ (ameen and sadiq).

“Subsequently, the Supreme Court held that a disqualification under this article would be for life. The lifetime disqualification judgment was harsh. However, as far as the lifetime disqualification goes, the Pakistan Democratic Movement government made various amendments to the Election Act 2017.

Advocate Muhammad Ahmad Pansota said it was “interesting” to see NAB withdrawing its appeal against Nawaz’s acquittal in the Flagship reference.

“Previously in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, NAB filed an appeal with a considerable delay before the Supreme Court and now this. This appears to be a travesty of justice,” he opined.

Pansota also said that Nawaz’s Panama disqualification still “stands”, adding that the previous government had attempted to undo it through an act of Parliament.

“Interestingly, there is a SC Judgment which holds that disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) is lifetime. There is a conflict between the law and the Supreme Court judgment which, in my view, may be resolved when Nawaz Sharif files his nomination papers for contesting elections,” he said.

“The same will be challenged by his opponent and the matter will eventually go till the apex court where it is likely to be settled,” he observed.

The hearing

As the proceedings commenced, Nawaz’s lawyers came to the rostrum. Advocate Amjad Pervaiz contended that the accountability court had acquitted the PML-N supremo from Section 9A of the NAB Ordinance in the Avenfield reference.

Now, only section 9A(5) is remaining in the case which pertains to assets beyond means, the counsel said and then proceeded to read the law out loud in court.

“Under Section 9A(5), the prosecution has to prove certain facts and the accused is required to be shown as a public office holder,” he said. The law states that the accused’s income should not match with his assets, the lawyer added.

“I think Nawaz’s sentence was suspended on the same basis,” Justice Aurangzeb said here. “We relied on several judgments of the Supreme Court for the verdict on the suspension of the sentence,” he said.

The judge added that later the apex court had further elaborated on the matter and directed the lawyer to assist the court on this.

Continuing the arguments, Pervaiz said the investigation agency has to investigate the source of the assets at the time of their acquisition and compare known sources of income with the value of the assets.

“But this case is such that its contents have yet not been proven,” he said, adding that the investigators failed to prove all the sections of crime.

Subsequently, the lawyer submitted date-wise details of Nawaz’s assets in court.

At that, the IHC CJ asked if these assets were requisitioned at the same time or separately. “These properties were obtained from 1993 to 1996,” the lawyer replied, highlighting that nowhere it was written in the reference that these properties were linked to Nawaz.

“Whether it is the joint investigation team, NAB reports, references or statements, the value of these properties were not written anywhere,” he contended. “There is not a single page that can prove Nawaz had any connection with these properties.”

Pervaiz further stated that Wajid Zia, the prosecution witness, had also stated during the cross-examination that he had no evidence to prove the PML-N supremo’s connection with the properties.

“Do these documents include the date of acquisition of the properties and their value?” Justice Farooq asked. The PML-N counsel responded that the details were mentioned in some documents but they did not have any information that could prove Nawaz’s connection with the properties.

Pervaiz further pointed out that the most important question was that of the ownership of the properties. “There is no verbal nor documented evidence that these properties were ever owned by Nawaz Sharif,” he said.

The lawyer added that prosecution had to prove Maryam Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz were under the patronage of the PML-N supremo. “But there is no evidence for that either,” he argued.

Pervaiz also reiterated that there is no evidence the properties were ever under the ownership of Nawaz.

“Is this all the job of the prosecution?” the IHC CJ asked, to which the lawyer replied in the affirmative.

At one point, Justice Aurangzeb asked the NAB prosecutor if he was noting the points highlighted by Pervaiz. “He is talking about very important things,” the judge highlighted.

“Yes sir, I am noting,” the prosecutor replied but Justice Aurangzeb cut him short and said that the former did not have a pen in his hands, prompting laughter in the courtroom.

Meanwhile, Pervaiz went on to say that the prosecution was also responsible for explaining how the public office was used to acquire “benaami properties” and read orders issued by the SC regarding the matter.

“We are aware of the main contents of benaami under the criminal law,” Justice Aurangzeb said and directed the lawyer to assist the court regarding the same under the NAB Ordinance.

Pervaiz contended that the court announced the verdict on “the basis of assumption” and penned the verdict on the basis of generality not evidence.

The court had said Maryam Nawaz was a beneficial owner and also under the patronage of the PML-N leader, he pointed out, adding that it was also written that children were in most circumstances dependent on their father.

He recalled that the Lahore High Court had earlier acquitted a NAB suspect, Intelligence Bureau’s former brigadier Imtiaz, on the basis that the accountability watchdog had determined the value of his alleged properties without determining his income.

“The SC had also maintained this decision and did not give a differing judgment,” the PML-N counsel highlighted, adding that the IHC had also upheld the same in the Avenfield case against Maryam Nawaz.

Referring to this verdict, Pervaiz stated that the court had ruled that the prosecution did not have a single document to prove as evidence in the case. When the court asked whether this verdict was “binding”, the lawyer replied in the affirmative, saying that it had not been challenged by the accountability watchdog.

Here, Justice Aurangzeb stated that the court had recently issued an order under which four categories needed to be proven pertaining to benaami properties or accounts.

For his part, the NAB prosecutor said the reference was filed due to the SC’s judgment to which the Justice Aurangzeb noted that the court’s understanding was that the accountability watchdog was compelled to file the reference.

At one point, the NAB lawyer was asked why the bureau did not challenge Maryam’s acquittal. To this, he said that the bureau did not challenge the acquittal at the time and the judgement was now “final”, therefore, he could not present arguments in this regard.

“So should Nawaz Sharif’s appeal also be allowed? Then what are we doing here?” asked Justice Aurangzeb.

When the court asked NAB about Nawaz’ acquittal in the flagship reference, the lawyer told the court that the bureau would like to take back the plea filed against the verdict. “These are the instructions we have been give,” he said.

The court then disposed of NAB’s plea to withdraw its appeal against Nawaz’s acquittal in the flagship reference.

Avenfield reference

The Avenfield reference pertains to the purchase of four flats in Avenfield House, Park Lane, London. It was among the three cases filed by NAB against the former premier and his children on the Supreme Court’s orders in its landmark July 28 Panamagate verdict.

The proceeding in the Avenfield reference had commenced in September 2017 and an accountability court had indicted Nawaz, Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar on October 19, 2017.

According to the JIT report submitted in the Panamagate case, the Sharifs had given contradictory statements about their London flats and found that the flats actually belonged to them since 1993.

It said Nawaz had distanced himself from the apartments and could not explain the time frame and procedure adopted for obtaining the possession of Avenfield apartments by his sons and was even uncertain about which son claimed the ownership of the flats now.

An accountability court in July 2018 had handed Nawaz 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with NAB in the case, as well as a fine of £8m.

Last year, the IHC had acquitted Maryam and her spouse retired Capt Safdar of the charges levelled in the Aven­field apartments reference and set aside an accountability court’s July 2018 verdict.

 

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