Verdict on Sharifs' pleas challenging Avenfield sentences to be announced tomorrow

Justice Aurangzeb asks 'if Nawaz is owner then how was Maryam sentenced under section 9(a)(iv)'

Azam Khan

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court Judge Justice Athar Minallah on Tuesday issued an initial order that even if National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor does not conclude its arguments a verdict will be announced on Sharif family’s pleas challenging the Avenfield reference verdict against them.

A two-judge bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb heard the petitions filed by former premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar.

During the hearing, Justice Minallah remarked, “Seemingly, the accountability court’s verdict was based on the assumption that the Avenfield properties are occupied by the children but owned by Nawaz.”

“When the second Panama judgement was announced it was binding on all judges but the first was not declared binding,” he added. However, NAB prosecutor Akram Qureshi stated that the second Panama judgement is still under process.

Burden of proof of ownership lies on person who possesses property: NAB

To this, Justice Minallah said that all judges signed the second Panama judgment. Meanwhile, Justice Aurangzeb added, “The first judgment did not disqualify Nawaz and it was issued by minority judges.”

In response the NAB prosecutor stated that “this is no ordinary case” and pertains to a “web of numerous companies”.

Qureshi continued, “It was not possible to investigate this case in such a short period and any observation by the court in this regard will not be appropriate.”

Further, the NAB prosecutor argued, “Parents are the guardians of their children and the London flats were the children's possession.”

Stating that parents are “natural supervisors”, Qureshi asserted, “The burden of proof of ownership of flats lies on this.”

He [Nawaz’s counsel] says that Hassan and Hussain Nawaz can tell about the ownership although as father and supervisor, the burden of proof lies on him, the NAB prosecutor added. “The expenses are not on record.”

To this, Justice Minallah remarked, “The defence says that Panamagate JIT head and prosecution’s star witness Wajid Zia did not present a chart on the known sources of income. Even the investigating officer said he does not know who prepared the chart.”

Qureshi then said, “Bogus deeds were made.” To this, Justice Minallah asked, “Were those bogus deeds registered there?” However, Qureshi said, “The deeds were only made to inform the brothers.”

However, Justice Aurangzeb remarked, “The brothers are Nawaz’s sons.” After which, Justice Minallah turned to Qureshi and said, “You indicted them stating that Nawaz is the owner of the properties and not Maryam Nawaz.”

Justice Minallah then said, “Should we announce a judgment based on criminal law on assumptions? This assumption that the property is occupied by the children but the ownership is Nawaz’s?”

“Seemingly, the accountability court’s verdict was based on assumptions,” he observed.

If Nawaz is owner then how was Maryam sentenced under section 9(a)(iv): Justice Aurangzeb

Justice Aurangzeb asked, "How can there be two types of ownership at one time? Or is Maryam the rightful owner or only on paper?"

To this, Qureshi said, "Maryam Nawaz assisted." 

"So if Nawaz is owner then how was Maryam sentenced under section 9(a)(iv)," Justice Aurangzeb questioned. 

Justice Minallah then explained, "Justice Aurangzeb's question is that they both cannot be sentenced under the same indictment charges. So how then was a sentence announced on the same indictment charges?"

"The daughter should not have been sentences under section 5," Justice Aurangzeb observed. He then asked if Maryam's assets are beyond her known sources of income to which the NAB prosecutor responded in the affirmative.

Qureshi then pleaded to the court to adjourn the hearing till tomorrow as he recently underwent an open heart surgery and cannot stand for more than two hours.

However, Justice Minallah pointed out that Qureshi had said he will conclude his arguments within an hour. "Tomorrow, I will conclude my arguments within 30 minutes," the NAB prosecutor responded. 

Justice Aurangzeb then told the NAB prosecutor, "We will give you a chair to sit on." However, Qureshi said that sitting on chairs exerts pressure on feet.

At this point, Nawaz's counsel Khawaja Harris said, "We have already wasted enough time but cannot express reservations on health concerns."

Justice Minallah then remarked, "This is an important case and would have been great if we concluded it today. We will take a whole day for this case."

Turning to the NAB prosecutor, Justice Aurangzeb remarked, "There is a limit to everything and you have presented initial arguments. Even if you do not appear for the hearing tomorrow, we will announce the verdict."

Justice Minallah added, "You have presented good arguments and if you do not appear then Justice Bharwana will present arguments and even if they are not concluded we will announce a verdict tomorrow."

The court then adjourned the hearing till tomorrow.

NAB prosecutor expresses reservations against bench

Qureshi stated that in NAB cases bail can only be granted in case of hardship.

To this, Justice Minallah remarked, "We will see if this is a case regarding hardships or not."

Qureshi then turned to Justice Minallah and said, "It is said that you had close ties with Nawaz and played an important part in the former premier's movement."

Responding to the NAB prosecutor, Justice Minallah said, "The movement was regarding supremacy of law and you can see my judgments."