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IHC order on pleas against Sharifs sentence likely today

IHC order on pleas against Sharifs sentence likely today

ISLAMABAD: The Islam­abad High Court may issue an order on petitions seeking suspension of the sentence awarded to former prime minister Nawaz Sha­rif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield properties reference as the court has given a final opportunity to the National Accounta­bility Bureau (NAB) to conclude arguments on Wednesday (today).

In its order issued after Tuesday’s proceedings, an IHC division bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb said the court would pass an order on the petitions even if the NAB prosecution failed to conclude the arguments.

It may be mentioned that NAB has been fined twice for filing frivolous pleas using delaying tactics on the matter.

The IHC bench had last month with the consent of both the counsel for the Sharif family and the prosecution decided to conclude the hearing within a week, but NAB in an unprecedented move sought adjou­rnment, saying it would file reply after the defence counsel concluded his arguments. Subsequently, the court had imposed a fine of Rs10,000 on NAB for delaying the matter and adjour­ned the hearing till Sept 10.

Last week, the IHC bench with the consent of both sides had decided that the defence counsel would conclude the arguments by Wednesday and the prosecution by Monday (Sept 17). However, when the court resumed the hearing on Monday, NAB additional deputy prosecutor general Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi informed it that lead prosecutor Mohammad Akram Qureshi had challenged in the Supreme Court the IHC’s decision of proceeding with the petitions seeking suspension of the accountability court’s verdict instead of hearing the appeals against conviction of the Sharif family members in the Avenfield properties reference.

An SC bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had termed the NAB petition “frivolous” and slapped a fine of Rs20,000 on the anti-corruption watchdog.

On Tuesday, when the IHC division bench resumed the hearing after cancelling all other cases, it was told that prosecutor Qureshi was not present in the courtroom. Both the judges rose and went to their chambers. The bench reassembled after the prosecutor arrived.

Mr Qureshi made another attempt to delay the case by asking the court to pass an order on the maintainability of the petitions first and sought more time to prepare arguments in case these were admitted for hearing.

Justice Aurangzeb reminded the prosecutor that “you made commitment to the court to conclude arguments by Monday and please don’t resile now”.

At this, NAB prosecutor Qureshi, who was a PCO judge, passed personal comments about Justice Minallah that people were spreading information that the latter had participated in the lawyers’ movement that was led by Nawaz Sharif.

It was unprecedented as the counsel representing state institutions never uttered such words about judges of the superior judiciary.

Justice Minallah remarked that during the movement he remained in touch with incumbent prime minister Imran Khan mare than Nawaz Sharif, but after his appointment as judge he severed all social ties. “One can judge me through my decisions,” he added.

Justice Aurangzeb assured the prosecutor that “our sole motive is to pass judgement strictly in accordance with the law. We will pass order on maintainability and merit in single judgement”.

The prosecutor then started arguing on the merits of the petitions and said both sons of Mr Sharif — Hussain and Hassan — had admitted possession of Avenfield apartments, adding that once the possession was established, the onus of proof shifted to the accused.

Justice Minallah, while referring to the defence counsel’s arguments, asked if the accountability court judge’s verdict followed the principles laid down by the superior courts before shifting the burden of proof according to which it was on the prosecution to establish variance between income and assets of the accused first.

“One can only tell about his own income and asset,” Mr Qureshi said.

“Can you identify anything which the trial court judge referred to establish connection of Mr Sharif with the London properties?” the court asked.

The prosecutor said there was ample evidence and sought time to present the detailed money trail.

When Justice Aurangzeb asked if the properties were jointly owned by Mr Sharif and his daughter Maryam, the prosecutor replied in the negative.

“Why Maryam was convicted under Section 9(a)(5) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO)?” asked the judge.

Mr Qureshi said she had used a fake trust deed to conceal these properties.

The judge observed that she might be charged for abetting, and not for owing assets beyond means. “Had Maryam amassed assets beyond her known sources of income?” he asked.

The prosecutor after much deliberation replied in the negative, but said she had hatched conspiracy for concealing the properties.

The prosecutor then asked the court to adjourn the hearing since he could not stand because of ailment.

The bench offered him to continue his arguments while sitting on a chair.

When Mr Qureshi expressed his inability to continue arguments, the court adjourned the hearing till Wednesday with an observation that in case NAB failed to conclude arguments, the court would consider the written arguments filed by the bureau and would pass an appropriate order accordingly.

Nawaz Sharif appeared before the accountability court for the first time after the demise of his wife Kulsoom Nawaz. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders, lawyers and journalists condoled the death of Kulsoom Nawaz and offered Fateha.

Accountability Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik resumed the trial in the Al-Azizia reference.

Defence counsel Khawaja Haris continued cross-examination of star prosecution witness Wajid Zia till 11.30am after which he left for the Islamabad High Court to attend the hearing on the petitions seeking suspension of the sentence awarded to the Sharif family members in the Avenfield properties reference.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2018

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