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Tuesday Jul 17 2018

Awaiting IHC verdict on Sharif family’s appeal, judge adjourns Al-Azizia reference


ISLAMABAD: Accountability Court-I Judge Muhammad Bashir decided on Tuesday to adjourn the Al-Azizia corruption reference against Nawaz Sharif till the high court's ruling on an appeal filed by the Sharif family.

The former prime minister's legal counsel had earlier petitioned the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against conducting a jail trial and seeking suspension of the sentence in the Avenfield properties reference. 

A two-member IHC bench comprising Justice Moshin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb will hear both petitions today.  

During today's hearing, Nawaz's lawyer Khawaja Haris was due to cross-examine prosecution witness Wajid Zia, however, the primary defence counsel failed to appear in court. 

As the hearing went under way, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor Afzal Qureshi appeared in court. He apprised the court that the Sharif family's appeal has been fixed for hearing in the IHC later today. 

Judge Bashir then decided to postpone the hearing till the IHC's ruling on the appeal. 

Later, after Nawaz's secondary counsel Saad Hashmi appeared in court, Judge Bashir told him that both of his client's appeals had been sent to the high court. The counsel then said that his client had also submitted a petition in the IHC to transfer the case to another court.

The judge then inquired if Hashmi thought the verdict on his appeal would be announced today, adding that he too had submitted a request to the IHC but it would be heard internally. 

"We have heard that the law ministry has also recommended a jail trial," Judge Bashir noted. Hashmi responded by saying that his client had not received a notice in this regard. 

Judge Bashir further observed that the high court was expected to announce its decision by today evening and proposed to adjourn the hearing till tomorrow, noting that by then Haris would also appear before the court.          

The hearing was then adjourned till July 18. 

'Media will be allowed to cover jail trial'

In an informal conversation with journalists covering the trial, Judge Bashir observed that the media will be allowed to cover Nawaz's jail trial. 

The judge apprised media persons that special passes would be made for journalists to enter the Adiala jail, where the former premier is incarcerated. 

Last week, the accountability court had rejected the Sharif family's petition to transfer the Al-Azizia corruption reference to another judge.

Judge Bashir had sentenced Nawaz, daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar Awan to jail in the Avenfield properties reference on July 6. 

Yesterday (July 16), Judge Bashir recused himself from hearing from hearing Al-Azizia and Flagship references against the Sharif family, sources informed Geo News.

In a letter to IHC, the judge stated that he had announced the verdict of Avenfield properties case and could not hear Al-Azizia and Flagship references. Judge Bashir further stated that if required, then he could also be transferred.

The accountability court judge noted that Nawaz's counsel had also objected to him hearing the other two cases. Sources further said the letter was written to the IHC Chief Justice Anwar Kasi two days ago, who is on leave.

The former premier and his daughter were arrested by NAB officials upon their arrival in Lahore on July 13 and subsequently moved to Adiala prison in Rawalpindi.

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.