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July 5, 2018

Two factors that can delay announcement of verdict in Avenfield case


July 5, 2018

ISLAMABAD: While former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s has requested the accountability court to delay announcement of its verdict in the Avenfield case until his return, there are other factors that can also contribute to delay in the announcement of verdict.

According to legal experts and NAB sources, there are past precedents of delays in announcement of reserved verdicts. The verdict in the landmark case is originally set to be announced tomorrow (Friday).

“It happens in 90 percent cases in the accountability court that the decision is postponed for another date for some valid reasons like review of lengthy cases by the judge,” said a NAB official who deals with accountability cases requesting anonymity.

He said the Avenfield case also requires a lot of time and attention of the judge has to go through 10-month-long tedious work of the defence and prosecution lawyers and testimonies of 18 witnesses along with 10 volumes of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report.

Secondly, he said, normally the accountability court does not announce sentences to any accused in his or her absence. "The court had issued notices to the accused to ensure their presence on July 6. But since Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz are not in Pakistan, the verdict could be delayed to give them time to appear," he said.

The Accountability Court No 1 Judge Muhammad Bashir suspended proceedings in other Panama related references on Wednesday and sought a two-day leave from his work apparently in a bid to give himself some extra time to write down verdict in Avenfield case. But the NAB sources said the decisions had also been delayed in the past by the same court.

The Avenfield case against Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain (R) Mohammad Safdar is one of the most high-profile cases for Judge Muhammad Bashir. He has also decided five references against former president Asif Ali Zardari who was acquitted in all cases as evidence was not available against him in the form of original documents.

The Avenfield reference was among those filed by the NAB against Nawaz and his children on the Supreme Court's orders in Panama Papers case.

During hearings, the NAB prosecutor had claimed that the former prime minister had acquired four apartments in Avenfield House, Park Lane, London. The Sharifs’ lawyers maintained that the JIT and prosecution could not prove evidence of any wrongdoing on part of Sharif family and the entire case is based on hearsay.

The court was supposed to conclude the case in six months, but it was given extension twice by the Supreme Court to conclude the case. The accountability court held 107 hearings in the case where Nawaz appeared 78 times. Maryam was present in the court in 80 hearings, while her husband made 92 appearances.

The prosecution presented 18 witnesses including star witness Wajid Zia, the head of JIT, Director General NAB Zahir Shah, British forensic expert Robert Radley and solicitor Akhtar Riaz Raja. Nawaz Sharif and his legal team did not produce a single witness in the case.

In other high-profile cases, the accountability court is also hearing corruption cases against two former prime ministers from the PPP Yusuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, but so far no former prime minister or president has been convicted by the NAB court.

While contacted, the NAB spokesman Asim Ali Nawazish said he cannot comment about the decision in Avenfield case as it is a sub judice matter.

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