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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to reply to the questions regarding the establishment of the beneficial ownership of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz in the Avenfield apartments case.

A division bench, comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, on Wednesday heard the appeals of Maryam Nawaz and Captain (retired) Muhammad Safdar against their conviction in corruption reference.

Maryam Nawaz and Safdar appeared before the court along with their lawyer Irfan Qadir advocate, while Usman Ghani Cheema, Sardar Muzaffar, Moazzam Habib, and Barrister Rizwan represented the NAB.

Irfan Qadir informed the court that he wants to highlight some points besides submitting details of the facts.

He said: “The reference was filed against his client without having any evidence following the directives of the NAB chairman.”

He added that he did not raise points, which were mentioned in the written order of the last hearing.

Justice Farooq remarked that the court would correct them if there was something objectionable due to commotion in the courtroom or a writing pattern in the English language.

He added that the trial is under way and those points could be removed at the request of the counsel.

The counsel said his clients had thought the arguments were concluded by their counsel after reading the order.

To this, the judge remarked that the counsel should tell their clients regarding the continuation of arguments whether it would take one day or more.

He added that the counsel would have to proceed with arguments in response to the NAB submission.

The court then ordered the NAB counsel to continue arguments.

The NAB prosecutor said three accused had been given sentences on the same charges on July 6, 2018, by the accountability court in Avenfield Apartment reference.

He said that the prosecution’s case was that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the owner of Avenfield apartments, which were purchased through the offshore companies, Nelson and Nescol.

He added that Maryam Nawaz was the beneficial owner of this property and she assisted her father to hide it through a fake trust deed, while her husband signed it as a witness.

It was in public knowledge that the trust deed was fake, he said.

The NAB prosecutor said that he would give his arguments along with submitting the documents.

The court ordered the NAB prosecutor to provide a copy of the documents to Irfan Qadir, as well.

Justice Farooq questioned the counsels of the prosecution and defense sides, “Have you read 6,000 pages? What is the allegation against Nawaz Sharif?”

He said how can a case against a beneficiary be proceeded if there is no evidence against the prime accused.

The bench said that the primary onus is on the NAB to prove that Maryam is the beneficial owner.

Justice Farooq said they cannot hold anyone responsible on the public perception, which might be true, but this is a criminal case, wherein, you have to establish a case through evidence.

He asked the NAB’s attorney to give independent evidence to establish Maryam Nawaz’s ownership of the Avenfield apartments. The bench also questioned how the burden was shifted to Maryam – who denied ownership as she is a trustee – when the principal accused, Nawaz Sharif, was the one who could not explain the source of the funds.

Justice Kayani asked why the NAB could not obtain bearer certificates from the accused’s family to establish beneficial ownership of the London apartments. He added that the NAB is convicting someone solely on the basis of a letter, which was sent by a foreign lawyer and does not have a substantial value.

The court further noted that the Supreme Court’s observations were not enough to prove beneficial ownership in a criminal case where evidence was required to establish facts.

Justice Kayani maintained that the primary accusation against Maryam Nawaz was ill-gotten wealth, hence, the source of funds were to be established. He continued that the NAB prosecutor has to provide evidence regarding the real owner of the company to satisfy the court.

Justice Kayani questioned the company’s ownership and trust deed.

To this, the prosecutor said Maryam Nawaz had hidden the facts regarding the company’s ownership. He added that Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, and Captain (retired) Safdar had established offshore companies and hid the facts. The offshore companies of Maryam Nawaz had been exposed after the Panama Papers leaks, he said.

The judge remarked that the properties were not coming under the ownership of Maryam Nawaz but of a company. He questioned whether Maryam Nawaz had accepted the company ownership.

The prosecutor said that Maryam Nawaz had rejected the ownership of the company but admitted to being a trustee. The court also raised a question regarding the registration of the companies in the British Virgin Islands and proofs of their beneficiary owner from the Sharif family.

The prosecutor said that both the companies were registered and their documents are present. The judge remarked that the letter regarding the companies could not be considered as evidence.

The judge maintained that it is not a civil case but a criminal case.

The NAB prosecutor would have to prove the beneficiary owner of the company.

Justice Farooq remarked that it is a case of two lines as the prosecution would have to prove the ownership and then the beneficiary owner and trustee.

The NAB prosecutor said that the documents had proved the beneficiary ownership of Maryam Nawaz.

Later, the court deferred the hearing till November 24 for further hearing.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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