Avenfield case: IHC CJ says charges against Nawaz not framed correctly

Awais Yousafzai
Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice Aamer Farooq of the Islamabad High Court expressed scepticism on the NAB’s Avenfield case against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and said it appears that neither the charges were framed properly nor did the NAB had any knowledge of the evidence. He further asked how corruption against a public figure could be established without evidence of the accumulation of assets beyond their known sources of income.

The comments arose during the hearing of a petition by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) leader Nawaz Sharif, challenging his conviction in the Al Azizia and Avenfield references. A two-member division bench, headed by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and including Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, presided over the appeals.

In July 2018, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in jail in the Avenfield reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) based on the Supreme Court’s order. The Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference, resulting in a seven-year jail term on December 24, 2018, also included a fine of Rs1.5 billion and $25 million. Declared a proclaimed offender in both references in December 2020, Nawaz had returned to Pakistan last month after nearly four years in self-imposed exile in London. Upon his return, Nawaz had filed two separate applications seeking the restoration of his appeals against conviction, arguing that the pending appeals were dismissed for non-prosecution while he was abroad for medical treatment.

Appearing before the IHC with his legal team, including former law minister Azam Nazir Tarar, Nawaz Sharif sought the court’s consideration on the merits of his pleas. During the hearing, PMLN lawyer Amjad Pervez informed the bench that the Supreme Court had established a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe corruption allegations against Nawaz. Pervez elaborated on the top court’s April 20, 2017, order, emphasising its focus on the formation and mandate of the JIT. He said that the 2017 verdict had empowered the JIT to investigate the matter and led to the filing of references after the disqualification of then-prime minister Nawaz in July 2017.

Justice Aurangzeb sought clarification on the directions given to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman in the verdict. Pervez explained that NAB was directed to file references within six weeks of the verdict, with the relevant court instructed to announce a decision on references within the same timeframe. “Did NAB ever use its own mind when doing something?” asked Justice Aurangzeb. “NAB did not do anything other than send a call-up notice to Nawaz Sharif,” Pervez said. He added that the bureau did not present any “concrete evidence” apart from statements from witnesses. He said that the call-up notice issued by NAB had nothing to do with the investigation. “So NAB did not conduct a separate investigation on its part?” asked Justice Aurangzeb, to which the lawyer responded in the affirmative. Pervaiz said that NAB did not issue a questionnaire to Nawaz.

Besides Nawaz, Pervez mentioned that PMLN Senior Vice-President Maryam Nawaz, Captain (retd) Safdar, Hussain Nawaz, and Hassan Nawaz were also implicated in the Avenfield reference. He argued that the NAB, citing the Supreme Court verdict, contended it had no alternative but to file references.

Chief Justice Farooq noted the NAB’s attempt to establish Maryam Nawaz as the beneficial owner of the Avenfield apartments. Expressing his scepticism on the NAB’s Avenfield case against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the CJ said it appears that neither the charges were framed properly nor did NAB have any knowledge of the evidence. Responding to the judges’ remarks, Pervez contended that NAB had failed to prove Maryam’s beneficial ownership of the apartments, placing the onus on the prosecution to establish Nawaz as the owner and his children as benamidar (actual owner). After hearing the arguments, Chief Justice Farooq adjourned the case until November 29 (Wednesday).