Nawaz arrested from courtroom, sentenced to 7 years in jail in Al-Azizia reference

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ISLAMABAD – Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif was found guilty by an accountability court in the Al Azizia corruption reference and was acquitted in the Flagship reference.

Nawaz has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment and was arrested from court premises. A fine of Rs1.5 billion was also imposed on the deposed premier.

Sons Hassan and Hussain were declared absconders by the court.

The verdict was announced by Judge Arshad Malik of Accountability Court No2. The court had reserved the verdict on Wednesday after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) concluded its final arguments on Tuesday.

The former premier reached the court premises along with Hamza Shehbaz. Senior PML-N leaders, including Maryam Aurangzeb, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Raja Zafarul Haq among others were also present outside the premises.

Security around the Judicial Complex in Islamabad has been increased ahead of the verdict, with at least 1,400 personnel deployed in and around the court premises. All routes leading to the accountability court have been sealed.

Security personnel deployed at the premises. Photo: EXPRESS

Security personnel deployed at the premises. Photo: EXPRESS

A large number of PML-N supporters are present nearby at the Dhoke Kashmirian signal and are being barred from moving towards the accountability court by security personnel.

The Al Azizia and Flagship references were filed against members of the Sharif family in September 2017.

PML-N workers and police face off near the accountability court. Photo: EXPRESS

PML-N workers and police face off near the accountability court. Photo: EXPRESS

Sharif arrived in Islamabad from Lahore on Sunday and met his younger brother and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif at the Ministers’ Enclave.

Overview

In view of the July 28, 2017 verdict, the trial of Sharif has been monitored by the apex court. Justice Ijazul Ahsan is the monitoring judge, who supervised the trial of the PML-N supremo.

The accountability court had shared the progress report of the trial with the monitoring judge every month.

On the other hand, the Sharif family’s legal team consistently expressed reservations over the supervision of the trials by the SC judge.

Khawaja Haris, the counsel for Sharif, contended in his arguments on a review petition before the five-judge larger bench that supervision of the accountability court’s proceedings would affect a fair trial.

The counsel alleged that the SC itself had become the complainant, prosecutor and judge in the matter.

In its July 28 verdict, the SC asked the accountability court to decide the four references within six months. NAB filed the references within the stipulated time.

However, the accountability court got the eighth extension to complete the trial.

Legal experts wondered why the accountability court announced the verdict in one reference (Avenfield) before the general elections. In view of that judgement, both Sharif and Maryam Nawaz were put behind bars but later both were granted bail by the Islamabad High Court. Now the matter is pending in the apex court.

Panamagate litigation was started in October 2016.

Judgment day: Nawaz’s fate hangs in balance

The Sharif family changed legal teams several times during the period.

Initially, Salman Aslam Butt and Akram Sheikh were representing the family.

On January 2017, when the larger bench resumed proceedings, the Sharif family came up with a new legal team, comprising Makhdoom Ali Khan, Salman Akram Raja and Shahid Hamid.

During the proceedings, political leaders made the SC premises a political circus, wherein they came to witness the hearing and later made their obligation to address media-persons there.

PTI chief and Prime Minister Imran Khan witnessed all Panamagate’s proceedings in the courtroom.

Likewise, senior PML-N leaders also attended all the hearings. Later in the evenings, TV channels conducted talk shows on the development of the case. Though the seating capacity in Courtroom No 2 was limited, it was quite pleasant to witness the top court’s proceedings in the Panamagate proceedings.

In February, one member of the bench – Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh – had a cardiac arrest but the hearing of the case was resumed after a couple of weeks.  During the hearing, the bench members observed that the court wanted to announce the judgement, which could be remembered for decades.

In view of such observations, the people’s curiosity in the outcome of the proceedings increased.

During the hearing, the larger bench members were visibly divided on several law points. So same happened as two members of the bench – Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmad – on April 20 disqualified Sharif for giving false statement on acquiring London properties. However, three majority judges (Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh and Justice Ijazul Ahsan) opted for further probe into the matter by forming a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), comprising representatives of civil and military agencies.

Till that time, the PML-N followers were jubilant as Sharif narrowly escaped disqualification. Even, sweets were distributed. On the other hand, the PTI was little upset over the decision.

However, the SC decided to form a powerful JIT in this matter. Even, the judges, who were members of the implementation bench, themselves, selected names of the JIT members.

JIT formed

On May 6, the SC constituted a six-member JIT, but the Sharif family did not object over the nominations at the initial stage. With the passage of time, the team started to work. At that time, the PTI leaders were showing concern over the mode of JIT’s investigation, but interestingly, the PML-N members were relaxed.

When the JIT started the investigation by summoning Sharif family members, the PML-N leaders started criticising the team. They also questioned the registrar’s WhatsApp message to SECP chairman regarding the nomination of JIT’s member.

When the JIT summoned Sharif’s cousin Tariq Shafi to record his statement, he failed to give a satisfactory reply.

After Shafi’s appearance, the Sharif family challenged the formation of JIT in the apex court as well as accused the team members of harassing witnesses.

However, the court declined their objections. On July 10, the JIT submitted the final report with new revelations related to business affairs of the Sharif family. The issue related to the employment of Sharif in his son’s UAE-based company Capital FZE surfaced for the first time in view of the JIT’s report.

However, legal experts were expressing concern that without the assistance of powerful stakeholders, it was not possible for the JIT to bring the documents related to Capital FZE from UAE.

Again, the Sharif family changed their top attorney and Khawaja Haris replaced senior lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan.

Thrice, Sharifs made changes in their legal team.

Finally, the same larger bench on July 28 disqualified Sharif on the concealment of his salary, which he was legally entitled to get from Capital FZE. Likewise, Sharif launched a campaign against the judges.

After an anti-judiciary campaign, tension between the PML-N and the SC increased and the party faced immense loss.

Three PML-N leaders Daniyal Aziz, Talal Chaudhry and Nehal Hashmi were disqualified in contempt cases.

Likewise, the SC also disqualified Sharif as party head in view of the Panamagate July 28, 2017 verdict.

In the Al Azizia reference, 22 witnesses recorded their statements, while in the Flagship reference, 16 witnesses recorded their testimonies.

Former premier Sharif decided not to offer any defence in both cases.
Proceedings in the remaining references continued after Sharif and daughter Maryam were released from prison earlier in September.

The Supreme Court (SC) extended the deadline for the eighth time earlier this month, instructing the lower court to wrap up proceedings and announce the verdict by December 24.

Throughout the course of the trial, the former premier defended the accusation of being the real owner and beneficiary of offshore companies, which he claims belong to his sons Hasan and Hussain Nawaz.

Sharif has maintained that the cases against him were initiated on the basis of allegations levelled by his political rivals and the report of a joint investigation team (JIT) in the Panama Papers case was biased.

Sharif further said the report had declared him as the “real owner” of Al Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metals Establishment, but he was not the owner nor was he a “benamidaar” of both the businesses, adding that NAB could not present any evidence, proving that he had established Al-Azizia or Hill Metal.

Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar were released from jail earlier after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suspended their prison sentences.

The Sharifs had challenged the convictions through appeals and sentences through petitions.

“The instant writ petition is allowed and sentence awarded to the petitioners by the accountability court shall remain suspended till the final adjudication of the appeal filed by the petitioner,” read the judgment. “The petitioner shall be released on bail subject to furnishing bail bonds in the sum of Rs500,000 with one surety in the amount to the satisfaction of deputy registrar of the high court.”  —  Courtesy The Express Tribune

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