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Tuesday Jul 31 2018

Nawaz's counsel urges IHC for change of judge in remaining corruption cases

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) decided on Tuesday to club pleas filed by members of the Sharif family against their convictions in the Avenfield reference with Nawaz's petition to transfer the Al-Azizia and Flagship references to another court.

A two-member bench including Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb began hearing the appeals today.

As the hearing went underway, Justice Farooq suggested to club the pleas against conviction with the petition to transfer the remaining cases against Nawaz from Accountability Court-I Judge Muhammad Bashir's court.  

Nawaz’s counsel Khawaja Haris began presenting his arguments over the plea to shift the trial of remaining corruption references to another court. 

He pleaded that the judge has already disclosed his mind by punishing his client in the Avenfield reference.

Justice Farooq then inquired whether the cases will resume from the same point at which they presently stand, to which Haris responded in the affirmative.

When Justice Aurangzeb asked whether the defence has submitted similar pleas in the Supreme Court, Haris replied that the top court did not entertain their petition. 

On the court’s query, Nawaz’s counsel stated that the investigation officers in all three references are different whereas the witnesses and their defence is common. 

After the court inquired as to where the remaining cases stand at present, Haris informed that Panama case JIT head Wajid Zia’s cross-examination is under way in the Al Azizia case whereas his statement is yet to be recorded followed by a cross-examination in the Flagship reference. 

With Haris continuing his arguments, Justice Farooq asked how much time Nawaz's counsel requires to complete his case.

When Haris responded that he needs another hour, the hearing was adjourned until tomorrow. 

On July 6, an accountability court had sentenced Nawaz to a total of 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). Nawaz's son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar was also given a one-year sentence without any fine.

The Sharifs had challenged their convictions in the IHC, highlighting the legal flaws in the Avenfield judgement and asking for the accountability court's verdict to be declared null and void and the three convicts to be released on bail.

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.

Appeals highlight legal flaws in Avenfield verdict

The appeals 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.

It further says that levelling allegations without receiving a response to the MLA was mala fide.

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.