ISLAMABAD: The accountability court on Friday announced the verdict in the Avenfield properties corruption reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), handing ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif 10 years as jail time for owning assets beyond known income and 1 year for not cooperating with NAB. The sentences will run concurrently which means the former prime minister will serve 10 years in jail.
Corruption charges, however, could not be proved against him.
His daughter Maryam Nawaz 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. These sentences will also run concurrently; she will serve 7 years in total.
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 retired Captain Safdar has been given 1 year jail time – also for not cooperating with NAB.
As the 9-month-long trial concluded, Nawaz was handed a fine of £8 million and Maryam £2 million. The money will go into the state treasury.
According to AFP, prosecution lawyer Sardar Muzaffar Abbas also said that the court had ordered the properties, in London’s exclusive Mayfair, be confiscated by the federal government.
The sons, Hasan and Hussain Nawaz, also accused in the case, are “absconding therefore, they are declared as proclaimed offenders. Non bailable perpetual warrants of arrest shall be issued against them”.
NAB had filed the reference regarding the high-end properties in London, along with two others, on the Supreme Court’s directives in the landmark Panamagate verdict last year which deseated Nawaz as the prime minister.
Four members of the Sharif family ? Nawaz, Maryam, Hassan and Hussain ? are in London, while Captain Safdar is in Pakistan, but was not present in court.
Soon after the verdict, Maryam took to Twitter to share this message: “This is a very small punishment for firmly standing in front of unseen forces. The morale to fight against oppression has increased today.”
NAB will now wait for a certain time period for all three convicts to surrender. If they fail to do so, NAB will initiate the procedure to bring Maryam and Nawaz back, and arrest Safdar.
Meanwhile, the Sharif family, along with former finance minister Ishaq Dar, gathered at the Avenfield flats in London to watch the verdict.
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The verdict, which was scheduled for Friday morning, was delayed five times, finally being announced a little after 4:30pm.
The counsel for the family had submitted an application to the accountability court on Thursday, seeking a seven-day postponement in the announcement of the verdict. The plea, however, was rejected in the morning.
The atmosphere outside the court in Islamabad – where the fate of the Sharif family members was announced – was thick with tension and buzzing with media and security personnel. Both the capital police force and Rangers were deployed in riot gear outside the court.
Moreover, Section 144 was imposed in the capital and police in the garrison city were on high alert. City Police Officer (CPO) Abbas Ahsan told a private TV channel earlier that although “strong retaliation” is not expected after the decision, they are taking precautionary measures to maintain peace in the city.
After Judge Bashir reached the accountability court on Friday morning, Additional Deputy Prosecutor General NAB Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi had opposed Nawaz and Maryam’s application, saying: “At a stage when the court concludes the trial and fixes a date for the final announcement, the accused cannot file application for any relief.”
He pointed out that “when the court concludes the arguments, the accused is put on notice and under the law he should be brought to court, or the court orders the accused to ensure attendance.”
In a rebuttal, the defence counsel, Advocate Amjad Pervez, argued that “there is a legal requirement that the accused person should be summoned at the time of announcement of judgement, and in this case Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz both are ready to attend proceedings, but because of Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness, they requested that the judgement may be postponed for a few days.”
The judge, after an hour-long break, had ruled against the delay.
The Avenfield reference ? which pertains to the purchase of four flats in Avenfield House, Park Lane, London ? was among the three cases filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the former premier and his children on the Supreme Court’s orders in its landmark July 28 Panamagate verdict.
Besides Nawaz, Maryam and her husband Captain Safdar, NAB had also nominated Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz – Sharif’s sons – as accused in all three SC-ordered corruption references.
The NAB prosecutor had stated before the accountability court that Nawaz Sharif had acquired the four flats.
Sharif family had insisted that they had purchased the apartments through ‘legitimate’ financial resources.
They, however, remained unable to disclose those resources before the accountability court or the Supreme Court.
The apex court had directed the accountability court to conclude proceedings within six months and appointed Justice Ijazul Ahsan – who was a member of the bench that heard Panama Papers case – as a “supervisory judge” for the trial.
The proceeding in the Avenfield reference commenced in September and the accountability court indicted Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar on October 19.
According to the JIT report submitted in the Panamagate case, the Sharifs have given contradictory statements about their London flats and found that the flats actually belonged to them since 1993.
The report said Hassan Nawaz had contradicted the statement of his brother Hussain Nawaz about the Avenfield apartments, who had earlier stated that only apartment No 17 was in his possession in 1994.
Contrarily, Hassan confirmed that three Avenfield apartments (No 16, 16A and 17) were already in possession of Hussain when he had arrived in London in 1994, while they got the possession of the fourth apartment (17A) in the next six months.
The JIT observed that either one or both brothers had lied to hide some facts and hence they could not be given the benefit of doubt.
It said Nawaz Sharif had distanced himself from the apartments and could not explain the time frame and procedure adopted for obtaining the possession of Avenfield apartments by his sons, and was even uncertain about which son claimed the ownership of the flats now.
But Nawaz told the JIT that he usually stayed in apartment No 16 (Avenfield) whenever he visited London.
The prosecution produced 21 witnesses in the Avenfield reference, including star witness Wajid Zia, the head of the joint investigation team (JIT) which probed the Panamgate case, Director General NAB Zahir Shah, British forensic expert Robert William Radley and solicitor Akhtar Riaz Raja, who is Zia’s cousin, among others.
In May this year, Nawaz, his daughter and son-in-law recorded their statements under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) after which the court invited final arguments from the prosecution and the defence counsel.
The lead defence counsel Khawaja Haris initially withdrew from Sharif’s defence over the court beginning the final arguments since he was of the view that the accountability court instead of calling for final arguments should first conclude testimony of prosecution witnesses in other two references – Al Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment.
However, he rejoined the legal team after Nawaz left for the United Kingdom in mid-June where his spouse Kulsoom Nawaz is undergoing medical treatment.
Haris took seven days to conclude the final arguments after which the counsel of Maryam and Safdar started his final arguments.
During the course of arguments, the defence counsel cited a number of judgements of the superior courts to prove that the case against the former prime minister and his family was devoid of evidence.
Nawaz and Maryam have appeared before the court around 100 times, according to media reports.
Agencies add: Meanwhile, Senator Asif Kirmani, spokesman for Nawaz Sharif, said that the judgment will not affect popularity of Nawaz Sharif.
“Nawaz Sharif is a popular leader of the people and will remain the same. People
will give their verdict in favor of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party of Nawaz Sharif in the July 25 parliamentary elections,” he said in a statement.
Accountability Court’s Judge Muhammad Bashir announced the guilty verdict in the Avenfield properties reference, one of the three corruption cases Nawaz Sharif and members of his family currently face.
Documents showed that four flats were purchased in 1990s in the name of Nielsen and Nescoll, offshore companies, owned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Safdar.
The National Accountability Bureau had filed the reference against Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, sons Hassan and Hussain Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar. The judge heard the case for nearly 10 months.
Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz had accepted the family’s ownership of offshore companies Nielsen and Nescoll after the Panama Papers’ leak. Ownership of the flats has not been changed since 1990, according to the media.
Maryam Nawaz advised PML-N supporters the verdict is not new for Nawaz Sharif as he was earlier disqualified for parliament, awarded life-time jail term and sent into exile. She wrote on Twitter that Nawaz Sharif is ready for any sacrifice and campaigns for respect of the people’s vote.
Nawaz Sharif, who was formally indicted in the case in November 2017, had earlier stated that he will neither tender apology nor file any mercy petition. He also insists that all cases have been filed against him for political motives.