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Thursday Nov 14 2019

Nawaz Sharif — a convict with dubious convictions

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif is a convict under the law but his convictions in both Avenfield reference and Azizia Steel Mill case have become dubious because of the Islamabad High Court’s ruling in one case and owing to the video scandal of accountability judge in the other case.

Without recalling the controversies surrounding the JIT on Panama and what made the Nawaz Sharif trial before accountability courts exceptional; the trial court judgments in Avenfield corruption reference and Azizia Steel Mills case have already become doubtful.

In the Avenfield case, a two-member bench of the IHC, while granting bail to Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and Captain Safdar, had found that the conviction and sentences handed down to the former prime minister and others in the reference “may not be ultimately sustainable”.

The verdict- authored by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah- points to the fact that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was unable to prove the corruption charges, saying: "The petitioners were alleged to have acquired Avenfield Apartments by corrupt, dishonest or illegal means." Yet, the accountability court in its judgment held that "Prosecution have not brought evidence in respect of [section9(a)(iv) NAO, 1999][4]. So the accused are acquitted under that section of law”.

The verdict also pointed out that though the prosecution had told the accountability court that Maryam was her father's dependent, the accountability court's judgement did not "refer to any evidence which would connect Petitioner No 2 (Maryam) to have aided, assisted or conspired with Petitioner No 1 (Nawaz) at the time when Avenfield Apartments were said to have been acquired between 1993 and 1996".

Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir on July 6, 2018 had announced the verdict in the Avenfield properties corruption reference filed by NAB, handing Nawaz 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and one year for not cooperating with the Bureau.

The AC judgment had acquitted former prime minister and others from the charge of having acquired the Avenfield properties “by corrupt, dishonest, or illegal means”. Nawaz, however, was convicted of his failure to explain how he had purchased the London flats. However, while doing so, Judge Muhammad Bashir instead of relying on concrete evidence, depended on presumptive or circumstantial evidence to conclude that Nawaz Sharif is the real owner of the London flats.

Interestingly, the Accountability Court in its judgment not only admitted that establishing the ownership of Avenfield flats is difficult in the absence of relevant documents but made it clear that it is relying on prosecution’s presumption that Nawaz Sharif is the owner of the properties.

On presumption-based evidence, the court first established that Nawaz Sharif was the owner of the London properties and then punished him for failing to explain the resources with which he had purchased the Avenfield Apartments.

The Al-Azizia Steel Mills case become scandalous following Accountability Judge Arshad Malik’s video scandal. The alleged video showed judge Arshad Malik having admitted that he was pressurised to convict Nawaz Sharif in the absence of any evidence. The video scandal though led to Judge Arshad Malik’s transfer and initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him, there is no probe done on the content of the video to establish whether Mian Nawaz Sharif’s conviction was the result of some pressures.

Interestingly, like the Avenfield judgment, the Accountability Court had once again relied on presumption to sentence Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for seven years on in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference.

The 131-page verdict contained word presume for 10 times and presumption for 13 times. The Accountability Judge, Arshad Malik defended the use of presumption while quoting Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (QESO) 1984 and previous judgements of the superior courts and even used illustrations to show instances where court could presume.

Interestingly, Judge Arshad Malik had acquitted him in a second reference related to Flagship Investments, but maintained that the prosecution had successfully established all the ingredients of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices against Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia case. The court fined Nawaz Rs1.5 billion and $25 million in the reference.

Originally published in The News