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Tuesday Jul 17 2018

NAB issued notices on Sharifs' pleas against Avenfield verdict

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued separate notices to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday on Nawaz Sharif's plea to transfer the remaining corruption cases against him to another judge as well as on the Sharif family's appeals against the Avenfield verdict. 

However, the court dismissed their requests to stay the corruption trial of the remaining references, as well as the Avenfield verdict, till their appeals are decided by the IHC.

Nawaz and family are thus likely to remain in jail until the election as the hearing was adjourned for the last week of July. 

Moreover, the ongoing corruption proceedings against the former premier are likely to be adjourned until the IHC decides the case, as was stated by the accountability court today. 

A number of appeals have been filed by Nawaz, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar regarding the Avenfield case verdict.

The hearing went under way today as soon as IHC Justices Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb entered the courtroom, which was packed to the brim. 

Transfer of cases 

Nawaz's counsel Khawaja Haris, beginning his arguments, stated that the accountability judge has already given his verdict in one reference and thus cannot hear the remaining two references. 

Justice Aurangzeb asked Haris if the judge has given an opinion on the other two references in the Avenfield judgment. 

Haris remarked that it is not about the judge's bias or personal grudge but about the fairness of the trial. 

The bench then issued a notice to the NAB prosecutor with regard to Nawaz's plea to transfer the remaining cases to another judge, directing him to submit a response at the next hearing, scheduled for the last week of July. 

Moreover, the court did not approve Nawaz's plea seeking a stay on the corruption proceedings until the court decides on his petition to transfer the cases and will hear the matter after NAB's response on it. 

Avenfield verdict appeal 

The bench then began hearing the Sharif family's appeals against the Avenfield verdict.   

After hearing arguments from Haris and Maryam's counsel Amjad Pervez, the court issued notices to NAB and also sought the complete record of the trial. 

Haris then pleaded the court to stay the trial court's order till the appeals are decided.

Justice Kayani remarked that NAB can be issued notices on the plea to stay proceedings as well. 

Haris informed the court that the Avenfield judgment states that it is normal practice that parents are financially responsible for their children whereas NAB's star witness Wajid Zia accepted during cross-examination that the Panama JIT could not find any proof that Nawaz's children were his dependents. 

Meanwhile, Pervez informed the court that his client, Safdar, was only sentenced for submission of false evidence. 

The hearing was later adjourned until the last week of July, with the court not approving the Sharif family's request to stay the Avenfield verdict till the appeals are decided. 

The court has summoned the NAB investigation officer and prosecutor at the next hearing to give arguments on the appeals and stay order pleas. 

Sources have said that the next hearing is likely to take place after the July 25 election, adding that it is also unclear if the same bench will hear the case owing to the judges' summer leaves. 

Speedy conclusion of appeals 

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders Raja Zafarul Haq, Senator Pervaiz Rasheed and Zafarullah Khan were also present in court during the hearing. 

Earlier in the day, Rasheed, in a media talk outside the court, had said the people of Pakistan expect the IHC to decide the appeals in the same speed with which it conducted the corruption proceedings against 

On Monday, the legal counsels of the Sharif family — who are currently serving their respective sentences at Adiala jail — had filed three different appeals on behalf of their clients.

Nawaz’s counsel Haris filed an appeal challenging the verdict against his client and requesting its suspension till IHC’s adjudication in the case. Similarly, Amjad Pervaiz filed the appeals on behalf of Maryam and Capt (retd) Safdar.

An additional appeal was also filed requesting the court to transfer the Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment references against Nawaz from the court of Accountability Judge-I Mohammad Bashir to another accountability court.

An accountability court on July 6 had sentenced Nawaz to a total 11 years in prison and slapped a £8 million fine (Rs1.3 billion) in the corruption reference while his daughter Maryam was sentenced to eight years with a £2 million fine (Rs335 million). Additionally, Nawaz's son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar was given a one-year sentence without any fine.

Appeals highlight legal flaws in Avenfield verdict

The appeals — that highlight the legal flaws in the Avenfield judgement — ask for the accountability court's verdict to be declared null and void and the three convicts to be released on bail.

They state that the Panamagate Joint Investigation Team (JIT) head and prosecution's star witness Wajid Zia himself accepted that a response to the mutual legal assistance (MLA) request was not received.

Levelling allegations without receiving a response to the MLA was mala fide, they further add.

Legal counsels of the convicts have contended that the prosecution’s witness Robert Radley not only stated that Calibri font was available for testing purposes, he admitted to having downloaded and used the Calibri font which was available as pre-release of Windows Vista known as BETA-1 since the year 2005 while simultaneously admitting that he was neither a computer expert nor an IT expert or a computer geek.

The trial

The trial against the Sharif family 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 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.

On July 10, the Supreme Court granted another six-week extension for Accountability Court-I Judge Mohammad Bashir to conclude the remaining corruption references against Nawaz and former finance minister Ishaq Dar.