ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) acquitted former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif in Avenfield Apartments reference.
The court also dismissed the National Accountability Bureau’s appeal in the Flagship reference as the anti-graft body withdrew it. The Accountability Court on December 24, 2018, had acquitted Nawaz Sharif in the Flagship reference.
An IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb on Wednesday announced the verdict on Nawaz’s plea to overturn his conviction in the graft case, after hearing the arguments.
Talking to reporters outside the Supreme Court after his legal victory, Nawaz Sharif said: “I had left it up to Allah. In Al-Azizia [Steel Mills corruption reference] too, I’ve left my matters up to Allah.”
On July 6, 2018, the trial court sentenced Nawaz to 10 years in jail upon conviction along with a £8 million fine (approximately Rs1.3 billion), in the Avenfield corruption reference for owning assets beyond known sources of income and an additional year for not cooperating with NAB, both of them to be served concurrently.
Maryam was sentenced to seven years in prison with a fine of £2 million, and one year for non-cooperation with the bureau, while her husband was handed down one year rigorous imprisonment.
Nawaz and his daughter Maryam were arrested upon their arrival in Lahore from London in July 2018.
In December same year, Nawaz got another blow as a NAB court awarded him a seven-year jail term and a fine of Rs1.5 billion in the Al-Azizia reference.
The former premier filed appeals in the IHC for both convictions to be overturned. He got a major relief as the high court ordered the release of Nawaz, Maryam, and Captain (retired) Safdar while temporarily suspending the sentences awarded to them in the Avenfield reference.
While serving the sentence in the Al-Azizia case, Nawaz was diagnosed with an immune system disorder and subsequently, allowed to travel abroad for treatment as per doctors’ advice.
During the hearing, Sharif’s counsel Amjad Pervez told the bench that the co-accused in the case Maryam and Capt (retired) Safdar were acquitted earlier this year. He added that the allegations leveled against them included aiding the crime. He said that the IHC’s acquittal of the co-accused is final as he then read out several sections of the NAB Ordinance.
The counsel said that the accountability court had acquitted the PML-N leader from Section 9A of the NAB Ordinance in the Avenfield reference. He argued that now, only section 9A(5) is remaining in the case which pertains to assets beyond means. He continued that under Section 9A(5), the prosecution has to prove certain facts and the accused is required to be shown as a public office holder. He also said that the law states that the accused’s income should not match with his assets.
Justice Miangul Hassan said that in his view, the court had acquitted the co-accused under the same NAB Ordinance sections. He added that they relied on several judgments of the Supreme Court for the verdict on the suspension of the sentence.
The judge added that later the apex court had further elaborated on the matter and directed the lawyer to assist the court on this. At this, Sharif’s counsel said that the investigation agency has to investigate the source of the assets at the time of their acquisition and compare known sources of income with the value of the assets. He maintained that but this case is such that its contents have yet not been proven. He contended that the investigators failed to prove all the sections of the crime.
The counsel also contended that the NAB had to present a comparison of income and asset value and after that, it had to be determined out whether the value of the assets is more than the income or not. Without this comparative assessment, making more assets than income is not a crime.
He argued that there were cases in which the value of the assets was known but not the income, noting that in such cases, the court declared that the case could not be made because the income was not known.
At this juncture, the IHC chief justice said that the properties that his client had acquired were at separate times. Then, the lawyer submitted date-wise details of Nawaz’s assets in court.
The lawyer said he could provide the dates of the purchase of these properties. He added that these properties were brought in between 1993-1996 and these properties have no link to the appellant. He noted that the prosecution had not linked Nawaz to the properties in its reference.
The IHC bench asked the lawyer what was the first thing that the prosecution should prove when making its case. Pervez responded that the prosecution would first have to prove that the accused is an office-holder. He added that the NAB was not able to prove anything and the Panama verdict, JIT, and NAB investigation report did not prove Nawaz Sharif’s relationship with the property.
He mentioned that there is nothing in the reference that proves Nawaz’s relationship with the properties and former FIA DG Wajid Zia also admitted that there is no evidence to prove Nawaz’s connection to the properties. He also pointed out that in the indictment, it was stated that your assets are not in accordance with the declared income. However, no one was able to determine the value of the assets.
He said that it was NAB’s responsibility to prove that Nawaz had actually paid to acquire the property. He mentioned that the institution had to also prove that the property was either in Nawaz’s possession or a benamidars. He maintained that but there is nothing to prove this.
IHC CJ Justice Farooq asked whether all of this was the prosecution’s job. At this, the lawyer said, “yes”, this is the prosecution’s job.
At one point, Justice Aurangzeb asked the NAB prosecutor if he was noting the points highlighted by Pervaiz. He added that he is talking about very important things. The NAB prosecutor replied yes sir, I am noting. Justice Aurangzeb said that but the former did not have a pen in his hands, prompting laughter in the courtroom.
Nawaz’s counsel contended that the prosecution was also responsible for explaining how the public office was used to acquire “Benami properties” and read orders issued by the SC regarding the matter.
The bench observed, “We are aware of the main contents of Benami under the criminal law,” and directed the lawyer to assist the court regarding the same under the NAB Ordinance.
Responding to the arguments, the NAB prosecutor said that the reference was filed due to the SC’s judgment to which Justice Aurangzeb noted that the court’s understanding was that the accountability watchdog was compelled to file the reference.
After hearing the arguments, the court announced the verdict by acquitting Nawaz in the Avenfield reference.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023