Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, while recording his statement in the Avenfield reference before the accountability court in Islamabad on Monday, denied ownership of the London properties and told the court that he had not been privy to any transactions for the acquisition of the properties.
Nawaz and his family members are facing three references — Avenfield properties, Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment Co — filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under the directives of the Supreme Court in its July 28, 2017 Panama Papers judgement.
The PML-N supremo, his daughter Maryam, and son-in-law retired Captain Muhammad Safdar, have been asked to record final statements in their defence in the references under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code and to produce, on record, anything contradicting the statements of the 19 prosecution witnesses in the case.
Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir had prepared a questionnaire of 128 questions and handed it over to the counsel representing the Sharif family on May 16. According to the questionnaire, the court has asked Nawaz if he was the benami owner of Nescoll and Nielsen, the two offshore companies that were shown as having ownership of the Avenfield flats.
Testifying before the court today, Nawaz said, “I was never involved in or associated with the acquisition of the London properties through any real or beneficial title.”
Regarding the money trail of the London properties, Nawaz said, “I have never been a participant in or eyewitness to any of the transactions mentioned in Tariq Shafi’s affidavit.”
Shafi, a relative of Nawaz, in his affidavit claimed that he deposited 12 million dirhams in cash with the Qatari ruling family following the sale of the Gulf Steel Mills in 1980.
In the affidavit dated Jan 20, 2017, which was also part of the concise statement submitted by Hussain Nawaz, Shafi stated that he had deposited the massive sum with Sheikh Fahad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani of Qatar, after receiving each instalment from Mohammad Abdullah Kayed Ahli.
During his testimony, Nawaz said that he could not say anything about the documents his son Hussain had submitted in the apex court with regard to the London apartments.
Hussain is also accused in this case but has been absconding since the trial began.
‘Neither a real nor benami owner’
Responding to a question regarding his address to the nation and his speech on the floor of the National Assembly, Nawaz said, “I never stated on those occasions that I was ever a real or beneficial owner of the London flats. Rather, it has always been my constant stance that I was neither a real or benami owner of the Avenfield flats.”
In reply to a query relating to forensic expert Robert M. Radley, Nawaz said that Radley was not a “font expert” and that he had admitted in his statement that the Calibri font was available prior to its launch in 2007.
Earlier this year, the British forensic handwriting document examination expert had told the accountability court that at the time when the trust deed of the property was prepared in February 2006, the Calibri font only existed in a beta version and was not commercially available before January 2007.
Moving on to questions regarding the Gulf Steel Mills, Nawaz said that he does not directly know where the funds for the creation of the factory came from. “However, Tariq Shafi’s statement suggests that the Gulf Steel Mills were created through loans.”
Nawaz testified that he was not aware of how Gulf Steel Mills ran and was not a witness to how it was sold, adding that his knowledge about the matter was based on hearsay.
“Tariq Shafi was neither named a suspect in these trials nor was he called in as a witness in the case,” Nawaz said during his testimony.
“It is a reality that I was taken into custody on October 12, 1999. After that I was sent off to Saudi Arabia,” Nawaz said, adding that he is aware that his father Mian Sharif had made Hussain and Maryam Nawaz directors of Hudaibiya Paper Mills.
“I also know that Hassan Nawaz was made a shareholder in the Hudaibiya Paper Mills by my deceased father,” he added.
Reservations over JIT, NAB
During his testimony, Nawaz expressed his reservations over the formation of the Panamagate Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the selection of its six members.
He claimed that the JIT head, Wajid Zia, had hired his own close relative to “produce fabricated evidence” against the Sharif family.
Nawaz also said in court that Bilal Rasool, another member of the JIT, is a close relative of former Lahore mayor Mian Azhar, while State Bank of Pakistan’s Amer Aziz was also a part of the investigation of the Hudaibiya Paper mills reference — which was quashed by the the Lahore High Court.
Regarding the appointments of Brigadier Nouman Saeed of the Inter-Services Intelligence and Brigadier Kamran Khursheed of the Military Intelligence to the JIT, Nawaz said, “Their appointments were inappropriate with the obvious fallout on the JIT proceedings, given the civil-military tension that has plagued the country throughout its 70 year history.”
Read more: Profiles of JIT members
Nawaz said that serious questions had been raised over NAB’s acquisition of the JIT report from SC as there was no record of the acquisition available with the apex court and the official who acquired it had not been included as a witness in the case.
He added that following SC’s verdict in the Panama Papers case, the investigating officer was forced to file the references against him as he had no other options.
Addressing NAB’s allegations that he had failed to appear despite being served a notice, Nawaz said that he never personally received the notice nor was there any evidence to prove that the security officer at his Jati Umra residence received it.
He clarified that he directed his lawyers to file a reply after finding out about the notice through media.
Nawaz also said that during the course of the JIT probe and the filing of the references, he was not given the right to a free trial as enshrined in Article 10A of the Constitution.
The ousted premier, during his testimony, said the prosecution could not produce any evidence that links him to the London flats.
The hearing has been adjourned until tomorrow when Nawaz will continue recording his statement.
The six-month deadline set by the SC for the trial of Nawaz and his family members in the corruption references expired on March 7, following which the apex court has granted two more months to the accountability court of Islamabad to decide the three cases.