The accountability court in Islamabad on Tuesday reserved its judgment in Avenfield Properties reference against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar.
The court said that the decision in the reference will be announced on Friday, July 6.
The Avenfield reference was among those filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the former premier and his children on Supreme Court’s orders given during the Panamagate case which disqualified Sharif.
NAB prosecutor has stated before the accountability court that Nawaz Sharif had acquired four apartments in Avenfield House, Park Lane, London.
Sharif family insists that they had purchased the apartments through ‘legitimate’ financial resources. However, they have remained unable to disclose those resources before the accountability court or the Supreme Court.
Besides Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar, NAB had also nominated Hussain Nawaz and Hassan Nawaz — Sharif’s sons — as accused in all three references.
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 Sharif, Maryam and Safdar on October 19. The prosecution produced 21 witnesses 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, Sharif, 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 Sharif left to 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 judgments of the superior courts to prove that the case against the former prime minister and his family was devoid of evidence.
In the hearing today, Advocate Amjad Pervez, counsel for Maryam and Safdar said that Zia hired his cousin, a UK-based solicitor, in the Panama case which is a classic example of nepotism.
Presenting final arguments in the reference, Pervez said the Supreme Court in its May 5 order had empowered the JIT to engage experts but the JIT hired Raja, who was a solicitor.
Pervez said that Raja took legal privilege when asked to disclose his fee but in his own communication on behalf of the JIT, he asked a fellow solicitor in UK, the amount charged by him from Hussain Nawaz.
According to Pervez, Raja did only three things for JIT – sent an email to a solicitor Jeremy Freeman, engaged forensic expert Robert Radley and authored a commentary for the JIT.
He argued that there is nothing on record why a solicitor’s services were required to send an email and there is no plausible explanation why Radley couldn’t be engaged directly or through foreign office.
He pointed out that Raja doesn’t have any personal knowledge of the events and his commentary is mere opinion. In addition, he said, it is an admitted fact that Raja “congratulated” Zia following his appointment as JIT head.
The counsel pointed out that Raja’s CV is not on record to show what kind of expert he is and if he was previously engaged in any high-profile or important case before being hired in Panamagate case.
Concluding his case, Pervez said that the JIT deliberately ignored the witnesses such as management of Minerva Services, which was the registered director of Nielson and Nescol off-shore companies that owned the Avenfield apartments.
He claimed that the government of British Virgin Island (BVI) has rejected the request for Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) sent by the JIT seeking information regarding the London apartments but the investigation team concealed this information in the JIT report.
He argued that the evidence which has been brought on the court’s record was “third-hand” evidence since these were old documents and were already available even before the existence of the JIT.
He further argued that the prosecution has miserably failed to bring “an iota of evidence to substantiate whether Maryam Nawaz or retired Capt Safdar were beneficial owner of the London apartments.”
When he concluded the arguments and said thanks to the accountability court, the judge Mohammad Bashir without wasting even a second, announced the date for issuing the verdict in the Avenfield reference.
The court directed the accused persons to ensure their presence on July 6, when the judgment in the Avenfield reference will be announced.
According to the JIT report submitted in the Panamagate case, the Sharifs had 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 he told the JIT that he usually stayed in apartment No 16 (Avenfield) whenever he visited London