IHC rules in favour of Sharifs, suspends sentences handed by accountability court in Avenfield case

The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday suspended the sentences handed to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield corruption reference.

The court was hearing the appeals by the Sharifs and Capt Safdar against the verdict announced by the accountability court on July 6 and have accepted their petitions, suspending their sentences in the meantime. PML-N workers present in the courtroom started cheering as the verdict was announced.

Following the suspension, Nawaz, Maryam and Capt Safdar will be released from jail after completion of formalities.

The accountability court on July 6 had announced the verdict in the Avenfield properties corruption reference filed by NAB, handing the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and 1 year for not cooperating with NAB.

His daughter was given 7 years for abetment after she was found “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” and 1 year for non-cooperation with the bureau.

According to the verdict, she “aided, assisted, abetted, attempted and acted in conspiracy with her father”. “The trust deeds produced by the accused Maryam Nawaz were also found bogus,” read the judgement.

Nawaz’s son-in-law was given 1 year jail time — for not cooperating with NAB, and aiding and abeting Nawaz and Maryam.

Final arguments

The National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) special prosecutor Mohammad Akram Qureshi concluded his final arguments today, following which the high court reserved the verdict in the case.

Qureshi argued today that after the fixation of appeals against the conviction of the Sharif family in the Avenfield reference, the IHC could not have entertained petitions seeking suspension of sentence.

He further said that since Maryam had prepared a forged declaration of trust in order to rescue her father, “she was equally responsible as she connived to dodge the legal course”.

When the court asked him if the forged documents had led to her conviction for owning assets beyond means, the prosecutor replied: “Maryam hatched the conspiracy.”

Qureshi further argued that Maryam was living with father as a dependent and so “the properties in her name presumably belonged to her father”.

Justice Athar Minallah remarked that “the NAB, after conducting thorough investigation, couldn’t bring any evidence of Nawaz Sharif’s ownership of the Avenfield apartments, but you want us to admit his ownership on mere presumption.”

Qureshi responded that the “law of evidence empowers the court to presume facts in certain situations.”

The prosecutor was reminded that there is a room of giving the benefit of the doubt to the accused, and that the precedents of the apex court bound the bureau to follow certain procedures in order to shift the burden of proof on accused persons.

At this, Qureshi said that “since the properties belong to a foreign jurisdiction, therefore, it is a distinguished case and these were not applicable to this case”.

Meanwhile, Khawaja Haris — the lead defence counsel — said that since the NAB law relates to foreign properties, the stance taken by NAB is without any legal force.

Published in DAWN on September 19, 2018

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