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Nawaz Sharif acquitted in Al-Azizia reference

Nawaz Sharif acquitted in Al-Azizia reference

Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif acquitted in Al-Azizia reference

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ISLAMABAD (Dunya News) – The Islamabad High Court on Tuesday acquitted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference.

Now, as the three-time prime minister contemplates another bid for the same position, the only remaining legal obstacle preventing the PML-N supremo from participating in the upcoming general elections on Feb 8 next year is his lifetime disqualification as a parliamentarian by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case.

A two-member division bench, led by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq announced the verdict it reserved briefly after both defence and prosecution lawyers completed their arguments. Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb was the other judge on the bench.

Earlier on Nov 29, the same bench acquitted Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield reference. It also dismissed the plea filed by the National Accountability Bureau in the Flagship reference against the PML-N leader’s acquittal after the accountability watchdog withdrew it.

In December 2018, an accountability court awarded seven years imprisonment to PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills reference, in addition to imposing a fine of 2.5 million pounds. Nawaz challenged the court's decision, seeking to overturn both the imprisonment and fine imposed as part of the conviction.

The Al-Azizia reference was one of the two graft references which Nawaz Sharif was convicted in.

The PML-N supremo still cannot hold a public office due to his lifetime disqualification in the Panama Papers case.

In July 2017, the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister for failing to declare a receivable salary [from his son]. The court directed the NAB to initiate proceedings in two corruption cases and the Flagship case, prompted by revelations in the Panama Papers.

The Panama Papers released in April 2016 revealed that three of Nawaz Sharif’s children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family's wealth statement. The insinuation that the companies were meant to hide or launder ill-gotten wealth or to avoid taxes called the then prime minister’s credentials into question.

Following the leaks, the opposition led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) intensified its protests to mount pressure, seeking disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as the prime minister. The Supreme Court took up the Panama case against Sharif and formed a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the corruption allegations.

The apex court, on the basis of the JIT findings, disqualified Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan’s prime minister on July 28, 2017.

Subsequently, the supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had to face the Al-Azizia Steel Mills, Avenfield and Flagship references brought against him by the accountability watchdog.

HEARING

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appeared before the court along with his legal team.

During the course of proceedings, Sharif’s counsel Amjad Pervaiz read out various parts of the trial court’s judgment, and said that the accountability court had only relied on the miscellaneous applications submitted to the top court.

The three civil miscellaneous applications were filed by Maryam, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, he said, adding none of these proved that Nawaz Sharif was the owner of these assets.

The counsel stated that the trial court didn’t even make these CMAs as part of the case record. He said the trial court also relied on the speech of Nawaz Sharif in the national assembly and TV interview of Hussain Nawaz. He said that Hussain Nawaz had stated that these assets had no connection with his father.

The lawyer said that the prosecution had to prove that the accused were public office-holders. It also had to show the value of the income and assets and it had to prove that the owner of these assets were dependents of Nawaz Sharif.

Amjad Pervaiz said that the prosecution had to prove that the benami property was created. If evidence was not given, it did not become a case of assets beyond known source of income, he said, adding that there was no such case in which the accused had been given sentence in the absence of clear and logical proof of ownership.

The lawyer stated that the prosecution couldn’t produce even a single proof against his client, adding that the burden of proof couldn’t be shifted onto the accused.

Giving argument on the occasion, the NAB prosecutor said that the references were filed on the directives of the top court. The Supreme Court had constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe and after the decision of the apex court, the NAB conducted its investigation, he said.

He said that whatever evidences were collected, had been attached. The prosecutor read out some parts of the indictment against Nawaz Sharif.

Chief Justice Aamer Farooq said basically there were allegations pertaining to Al-Azizia and Hill Metal in this case. “First identify how much money had been sent in Al-Azizia. How it was sent and when did the factory start its operations.”

He asked the prosecution to tell when Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal were set up. If there was any document, show it, he said.

The NAB prosecutor said that Nawaz Sharif was indicted with the charges of corruption and corrupt practices. The witnesses from the SECP, bank and FBR appeared in court for testimony, he said, adding MLAs also wrote to get evidence from abroad.

The chief justice asked the prosecutor to present the proof or evidence which proved the connection of Nawaz Sharif with this property.

The NAB prosecutor said that after the termination of judge Arshad Malik, the decision should not be relied upon.

The decision of the accountability court in Al-Azizia reference was biased, he said, adding after the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the said judge, this decision could not be deemed as accurate.

The chief justice said that the observations of the top court in the Arshad Malik case were quite strong. Even if the application had not been filed, the decision would have been taken into account, he added.

The chief justice asked the prosecutor to present the evidence before it, then try to connect the relation of Nawaz Sharif with the assets. The court would decide the appeal on merit, he added.

The chief justice asked the prosecutor to present the documents on the basis of which JIT head Wajid Zia reached a conclusion.

After the two sides concluded their arguments, the court reserved judgment and later absolved Nawaz Sharif of charges while announcing its verdict.