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Wednesday Nov 08 2017
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Nawaz Sharif’s plea to club references dismissed; former PM indicted in person

ISLAMABAD: The accountability court hearing corruption cases against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family dismissed on Wednesday Nawaz's plea seeking the clubbing of three references into one.

Judge Mohammad Bashir announced his decision in a short verbal order. 

On Tuesday, the judge had reserved the decision on the plea, which had earlier been rejected by the judge but was re-heard on the order of the Islamabad High Court. 

Nawaz and his family are facing three corruption references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in light of the Supreme Court's judgment in the Panama Papers case. Nawaz and his two sons, Hussain and Hasan, are nominated in all three references whereas his daughter Maryam and her husband are only accused in one. 

The former premier, who spent Tuesday night in the hill-town resort of Murree, arrived back at the Punjab House and reached the court Wednesday morning with Maryam and son-in-law, MNA Capt (retd) Safdar. 

'Denied fair trial'

After announcing its decision, the court formally framed charges against Nawaz in person, as previously his legal representative had appeared on his behalf for the indictment on October 19 and 20. 

Rejecting the charges in the three references and pleading not guilty, as his representative had done earlier, Nawaz said in court that he was denied the right to a fair trial and his basic rights were not protected.

He also said that the cases are based on a malafide intent and are politically motivated. 

When asked by the judge if he had received copies of the indictment, the former premier nodded in the affirmative. He also signed copies of the indictment. 

The former premier also said that as the Supreme Court had given the trial court six months to wrap up proceedings in the four references (including one against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar), each case would be given only a month and a half by the court.

However, the judge remarked that the three references against Nawaz would be heard concurrently so the trial is wrapped up in time.

The hearing was then adjourned until November 15.  

Talking to the media outside the court, Nawaz said he knew today's decision would not be in his favour. 

'Calibri application' partially approved

Taking up Maryam and Safdar's plea regarding removal of the 'Calibri font' reference in their indictment, the court ruled that the overall paragraph related to the Calibri font will remain in the indictment but ordered the removal of NAB law's section 3-A which lists punishment for the alleged crime.

The court made the decision after it heard arguments from Amjad Pervez, Maryam and Safdar's counsel, as well as the NAB prosecutor.

The judge observed further that the issue will be taken up in the court when the time comes. 

During Tuesday's hearing, Maryam and Safdar had filed an application seeking a change in their indictment on the grounds that their charge-sheet mentions submission of a "false" document [wherein the Calibri font was used].

The application pleaded that the document cannot be considered false as the Supreme Court, in the Panama case judgment, had directed the trial court to first establish whether false documents were submitted and then take appropriate action.

In its July 28 verdict, the Supreme Court had said: "In case the Accountability Court finds any deed, document or affidavit filed by or on behalf of the respondent(s) or any other person(s) to be fake, false, forged or fabricated, it shall take appropriate action against the concerned person in accordance with law."

IHC order on clubbing of references

At the November 3 hearing, the accountability judge had adjourned proceedings in light of the Islamabad High Court's (IHC) order directing it to re-hear Nawaz's plea seeking to club the references.

In his petition, Nawaz pleaded the IHC to declare the October 19 decision of the court rejecting their clubbing plea illegal and order it to combine the three references into one.

Maryam and Safdar, along with Nawaz and his sons Hussain and Hasan, face corruption charges in the Avenfield properties case.

Moreover, Nawaz has been accused in two other references alongside his sons: Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment Limited references.

Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar have been indicted in the cases whereas Nawaz's sons have yet to appear before the court and will soon be declared proclaimed offenders.

The references

The NAB has in total filed three references against the Sharif family and another against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the accountability court, in light of the Supreme Court's orders in the Panama Papers case verdict of July 28.

The anti-graft body was given six weeks, from the date of the apex court's order, to file the reference in an accountability court while the accountability court was granted six months to wrap up the proceedings.

The references against the Sharif family pertain to the Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metals Establishment, their London properties and over dozen offshore companies owned by the family.

Maryam and Safdar are only nominated in the London properties reference. At an earlier hearing, the court also approved Maryam and Safdar's bail in the Avenfiled properties case and ordered them to submit surety bonds worth Rs5 million each.

Safdar was also directed to take the court's permission before leaving the country from now on. The judge also provided a copy of the reference — spread over 53 volumes — to Maryam and Safdar.

NAB's Rawalpindi branch prepared two references regarding the Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metals Establishment, and the nearly dozen companies owned by the Sharif family.

Its Lahore branch prepared a reference on the Sharif family's Avenfield apartments in London and another against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar for owning assets beyond his known sources of income.

If convicted, the accused may face up to 14 years imprisonment and lifelong disqualification from holding public office including the freezing of bank accounts and assets.