ISLAMABAD: Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar were on Thursday indicted in a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) reference pertaining to Avenfield apartments in London.
During a hearing in an accountability court, all the three accused pleaded not guilty and would stand trial. Maryam Nawaz and her husband Captain (retd) Safdar appeared in person while Sharif was represented by a pleader, Zaafir Khan.
Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir also indicted Sharif in the references concerning the Al-Azizia Company Limited and the Hill Metals Establishment. Through the pleader, Sharif pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The three-time prime minister – who is currently in London to be with his ailing wife – also faces another reference pertaining to the Flagship Investment Limited and 15 other companies. In that reference, he will be indicted on Friday (today).
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The charge-sheet against Sharif in the Al-Azizia and Hill Metals references says: “Assets are disproportionate in your known sources of income worth millions of rupees [and] transactions carried on moving between family members and their companies without any plausible explanation and consideration which are utilized for the acquisition of assets ostensibly in the name of your sons/co-accused with purpose to conceal the real source of investment.
“The co-accused have no independent source of income being dependent and in capacity of Banamidar/abettor ostensibly hold the assets on behalf of and for the benefit of you accused Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to conceal the actual sources in assets which are belonging to you accused Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. Your Gulf Steel Mills sale agreement was found untrue thereby you accused Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif committed an offence of corruption and corrupt practices as defined under section 9(a)(v) of NAO, 1999, punishable under section 10 of the NAO, 1999. I hereby direct that you be tried by this court.”
Responding to the indictment by the court, Zaafir Khan read Sharif’s statement: “I am being denied my right to fair trial. The trial is being commenced without awaiting the detailed judgment in review petition by the Supreme Court.
“Trial is being conducted on the basis of interim reference as such prejudice to my right to fair trial and constitutional guarantees … unprecedented directives of concluding three references in six months and appointment of monitoring judge, especially in this case, have been passed.”
Maryam and Safdar also adopted Sharif’s statement and it was made a part of their reply to the charge. Responding to the indictment, Maryam said: “I refuse to accept charges. Allegations are unfounded. Charge is groundless, unfounded and farce.
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“We are being denied fundamental right to justice and fair trial. Trial has commenced on the basis of interim investigation report and reference. The trial is being commenced without awaiting the detailed judgment in review petition by the Supreme Court. It is unprecedented that there is a monitoring judge only in this case. This will go down in history as travesty of justice and mockery of justice. I plead not guilty.”
Before the indictment, the court dismissed three applications by the Sharif family, including the request for a stay on the trial until the release of a detailed order by the Supreme Court over their review petition filed against the apex court’s July 28 verdict in the Panama Papers case.
Defence counsel Amjad Pervez requested the court that it was not the time to frame charges as they had not been provided with the copies of statements of three witnesses Shakeel Anjum, Saeed Ahmed, Basharat Mehmood and a copy of Volume X of the joint investigation team (JIT) report.
Another defence counsel, Ayesha Ahmed, appealed to the court to combine the three NAB references as one, and then proceed to the stage of framing of charges. “All references are interconnected and based on same documents and same sources,” she said.
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Explaining her point, she said that if a witness, say Wajid Zia – who headed the JIT team that probed into allegations in the Panama papers case – is called to testify, he would have to produce over 9,000 pages which were made part of the JIT report.
“How will the trial continue, how long will the cross-examination take, and how is that not prejudiced to accused?” Ahmed questioned.
Amjad Pervez added: “This is the first case in the history of Pakistan where a [single] assets issue has been divided in three references.”
The NAB prosecution team replied that criminal proceedings could not be stayed under the law, adding that the SC had already dismissed the review petitions. He asked the trial court to proceed with the case, arguing that the offences and the roles of the accused were different in the three references.
A prosecutor said that not all the pages of the JIT report would be read before the court but only the relevant portions. He added the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) record was about the known worth of the accused and the case was about what and how they acquired what was not in the record.
The court, however, dismissed all the applications and proceeded with the indictment. After the pleas were recorded, the court directed NAB to start producing evidence and witnesses in the references against Sharif, Maryam and Safdar. NAB would now produce two witnesses on October 26.
The three references also involve Sharif’s two sons, Hussain and Hassan Nawaz. However, the accountability judge had already issued directions for separating their trial after the two failed to appear before the court despite repeated summons. The court had declared both the brothers absconders.
The references stem from the July 28 judgment of the Supreme Court on the Panama Papers case. NAB filed one references against Sharif, Maryam, Hussain, Hassan, and Safdar relating to the Avenfield Properties comprising flat No 16 and 16-A, 17 and 17-A Avenfield House at Park Lane area of London.
The references related to Al-Azizia Company Limited, Hill Metals Establishment, Flagship Investment and other companies are only against the former prime minister and his two sons.