Wednesday Sep 19, 2018
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday suspended sentences of former premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar in the Avenfield corruption reference and ordered their release.
A two-judge bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb gave the judgment on petitions filed by Nawaz, Maryam and Capt (retd) Safdar challenging the Avenfield verdict against them.
Justice Minallah read the judgment and suspended the sentences handed to the three by accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir on July 6. Nawaz, Maryam and Capt (retd) Safdar were sentenced to 11 years, eight years and one year, respectively, in prison in the Avenfield properties reference.
We accept the petitioners' pleas seeking a suspension in their sentences, Justice Minallah said.
Ordering their release, the two-judge bench directed the former premier, his daughter and son-in-law to submit bail bonds worth Rs0.5 million each.
The sentences will remain suspended till the final adjudication of the appeals filed by the petitioners.
A large number of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders, including Shehbaz Sharif, Pervaiz Rashid and Khurram Dastgir, were present in the courtroom and cheered as the judgment was announced.
Following the judgment, Senator Chaudhary Tanvir submitted bail bonds for Nawaz, Maryam and Capt Safdar at the deputy registrar's office.
Earlier today, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor Akram Qureshi concluded his arguments in the case. During Tuesday's hearing, the bench had directed Qureshi to conclude his arguments within 30 minutes and said that a verdict will be announced today even if arguments are not concluded.
After the NAB prosecutor concluded his arguments, Nawaz's counsel, Khawaja Harris, presented brief arguments following which the court had reserved its judgment.
As the hearing began, the NAB prosecutor argued over the sale of Gulf Steel Mills.
"In the case, the unique point is that the Gulf Steel Mills was sold in 1978," Qureshi said while presenting records of various court judgments.
"According to the accused, the sale agreement was between Tariq Shafi and Mohammad Abdullah Kayed Ahli," he added. "This stance was adopted in petitions submitted before the Supreme Court."
To this, Justice Aurangzeb, "Was this the stance of the accused?" The NAB prosecutor responded in the affirmative.
"They said that a further 25 per cent shares were sold in 1980," Qureshi added. "How did they receive the 12 million Dirhams that were paid for the mill?"
Qureshi continued, "The petitioners stated that they invested 12 million Dirhams in Qatari prince’s business and presented the settlement as money trail for Avenfield apartments. According to them, the basis of money for the purchase of the London flats was these 12 million Dirhams but during investigation it was found that the settlement agreement presented was fake and there is no such record of it in the Dubai records,” he added.
"The Dubai government has said they have no record of the sale of 25 per cent shares," he asserted.
Qureshi further said, "Maryam Nawaz through a different plea in the Supreme Court adopted the stance and through CMA No. 7531 she submitted documents in the top court which mentioned business matters with the Qatari family."
"The same stance was adopted before us that the money for the purchase of London flats was received through the sale of Gulf Steel Mills," Qureshi added.
To this, Justice Aurangzeb asked, "What do you mean before us? The accused were never presented."
In response, Qureshi said, "This was their stance before the JIT." However, Justice Aurangzeb pointed out, "You are not the JIT, there is a big difference between NAB and JIT."
Qureshi then said, "A fake sale deed was made to hide that Maryam Nawaz is the owner." He was then asked by Justice Aurangzeb, "You are saying that Nawaz made the papers in Maryam's name?"
Replying in the affirmative, the NAB prosecutor said, "Yes, Nawaz is the real owner of the flats."
To this, Justice Minallah asked Qureshi to present "some evidence" in this regard. "How can we assume that after such an extensive investigation there was no link found of Nawaz's relation with the flats," he said.
"There is no evidence showing Nawaz as owner of the flats," Justice Minallah asserted.
Responding to the judge, the NAB prosecutor said, "Till 2012, Maryam was the beneficial owner of these flats and then became a trustee through a fake trust deed." He added, "Calibri font was used in this trust deed and the font did not exist at the time."
Qureshi further claimed that dates were changed in the trust deed.
At this point, Justice Aurangzeb said, "Assuming Maryam presented fake documents, please tell us how she was sentenced for owing assets beyond her known sources of income."
Following this, the NAB prosecutor said the defence counsels should also be questioned. However, the bench observed that he has to conclude arguments and thus will be questioned.
When the bench asked how old Maryam was in 1993, the NAB prosecutor said she was 20.
"Your stance is that Nawaz bought the flats in 1993, so then how did this become a case regarding Maryam owing assets beyond her known sources of income? Your case is that Nawaz is the real owner not Maryam," the bench observed.
Stating that he in fact is saying that Nawaz is the real owner not Maryam, Qureshi said, "It's not me but the law that asks you to assume this."
When asked regarding his stance that the children's grandfather did not own a business there, the NAB prosecutor said, "It is the children's stance that Tariq Shafi overlooked their grandfather's business."
Justice Minallah then asked if there is anyone evidence showing "any role that Nawaz had" and said, "Can someone be sentenced just based on assumptions."
Responding to the judge, Qureshi said, "The law states to do so and I have informed about the Supreme Court judgment." However, Justice Minallah remarked, "That was a minority judgment."
Justice Minallah then added that as per Supreme Court directives, NAB had to conduct an extensive investigation. "Did you probe into their known sources of income?"
However, Qureshi said, "Supreme Court's law does not apply here."
Justice Minallah then asked where the chart regarding the sources of income is and if he should write that the SC law does not apply here. Qureshi then responded in the affirmative.
Further, responding to Justice Minallah's question whether the chart regarding the sources of income is unrelated, Qureshi said it was.
Qureshi also replied in the affirmative when Justice Minallah said that he has upheld that the burden of proof does not lie on NAB since the properties are located in a foreign country.
Justice Minallah then questioned, "Were such exercises conducted in the case of an official? We are asking about former presidents and premiers."
"Such was done in the cases of Hakim Ali Zardari and Ahmed Riaz Sheikh," the NAB prosecutor replied. "The burden of proof was also on the accused in both the cases."
The NAB prosecutor then concluded his arguments.
Additional prosecutor general Jehanzeb Bharwana then requested for a brief argument and contended that the trust deed submitted by Maryam was fake.
Justice Minallah then asked the additional prosecutor general if he agrees with Qureshi that this is a case of first impression. Bharwana replied in the affirmative.
The judge then asked who prepared the chart on the known sources of income. "Where is the person who made the chart and if they appeared before court then we would have conducted arguments over it."
Justice Aurangzeb then asked, "What is the rush in the case? This case is being fought through NAB's prosecutor general."
Justice Minallah then remarked, “Maryam could only have assisted if she played a role in the purchase of the properties.”
Qureshi then responded, “It is not necessary to know the worth of the properties as the flats, lavish lifestyle and media interviews are present.”
As the NAB prosecutor concluded his arguments, Nawaz's counsel, Khawaja Harris, presented brief arguments after which the court reserved its judgment.
Accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir had on July 6 convicted Nawaz, Maryam and Capt (retd) Safdar in the Avenfield properties reference and sentenced them to 11 years, eight years and one year, respectively, in prison.
Nawaz and Maryam were arrested on July 13 upon arrival in Lahore from London.
On July 16, the Sharifs had filed appeals for the Avenfield verdict to be overturned.
Further, the Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition filed by the NAB challenging the IHC's decision to hear Sharifs' petitions against the Avenfield verdict.
On September 15, the anti-graft body had moved the Supreme Court in an effort to keep the IHC from ruling on an application from the Sharif family seeking the suspension of the Avenfield verdict. However, imposing a Rs20,000 fine on the bureau, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar noted that justice should be served to petitioners.