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Thursday Jul 12 2018

Al-Azizia reference: Court rejects petition to transfer case

ISLAMABAD: The accountability court hearing corruption cases against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family rejected on Thursday their petition to transfer the Al-Azizia corruption reference to another judge.

Last week, the court sentenced Nawaz, daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar to jail in the Avenfield properties reference. After the court's verdict, the remaining cases pertain to the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment, and offshore companies including Flagship Investment Limited. 

Moreover, the Supreme Court has given the accountability judge six more weeks to conclude the remaining cases. 

As today's hearing went under way, Nawaz's lawyer Khawaja Haris and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi appeared in court. 

The prosecution asked for more time to present a copy of the apex court's order for an extension in wrapping up the corruption references against Nawaz and former finance minister Ishaq Dar. 

After a brief adjournment, the NAB prosecutor said that the Supreme Court's extension order was yet to be received. To this, the judge asked what the apex court's order entailed. Abbasi responded that a six-week extension had been granted to the anti-graft body to wrap up the corruption references. The judge remarked that it was yet to be seen what the Supreme Court order stated.    

Haris then requested the court to issue an order on his plea to transfer the remaining cases to another judge. 

Judge Bashir responded by saying that he did not have the mandate to transfer the reference after indictments. The defence then requested for the hearing to be adjourned till Tuesday so it could contact the relevant forum — Islamabad High Court.  

The NAB prosecutor, however, argued that Judge Bashir should hear the case as he had indicted the accused and the hearing had been presided over by him since day one. "It would be better if you [Judge Bashir] hear this reference," Abbasi remarked.  

The defence counsel contended that the verdict already announced by Judge Bashir was common with the other references.

"We should see justice getting served too," said Nawaz's lawyer, adding that the matter had been raised in the Supreme Court to bring it to the apex court's attention. 

Remarking that only the high court held the mandate to transfer the case, Judge Bashir rejected the transfer petition. 

The hearing was then adjourned till July 17.     

The trial

The trial against the Sharif family had commenced on September 14, 2017.

On July 6, after four extensions in the original six-month deadline to conclude all three cases, the court announced its verdict in the Avenfield reference. 

Nawaz was sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison and slapped a £8 million fine (Rs1.3 billion) while Maryam was sentenced to eight years with a £2 million fine (Rs335 million). Moreover, Maryam's husband, Capt (retd) Safdar, was sentenced to one year in prison. 

Nawaz and his sons, Hussain and Hasan, are accused in all three references whereas Maryam and Safdar were accused in the Avenfield reference only.

The two brothers, based abroad, have been absconding since the proceedings began last year and were declared proclaimed offenders by the court.


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