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July 7, 2018

Avenfield reference: Where, when and what happened


July 7, 2018

ISLAMABAD: It was another sad Friday for the Sharifs. The 10-hour long wait came to an end with this expected announcement, “Trial court convicted Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz --orders to put Nawaz ten years and Maryam for seven years in jail — it’s a victory for us [NAB].” A corruption watchdog chief prosecutor made this announcement at 4:29pm before the media soon after he came out of the accountability court where reporters were not allowed to enter at the 11th hour.

No one knew why the media was kept outside the courtroom. NAB’s prosecutor announcement perhaps did not stun many as it was an expected decision. Witnesses who were on the spot were of the view that the July 6 seems a doomsday for Sharifs’ politics just weeks ahead of the national election 2018. Hundreds of people including media crew who were kept on long wait to hear the judgment did not see any top tier leadership of PML-N outside the trial court on Friday. Nawaz Sharif and his daughter conviction is set to have very deep impact on the outcome of election but it’s immediately unclear whether Sharifs’ party would be losing ground in the end or a sympathy wave would remain intact, said a local lawyer.

It took things more than two years to unfold since the leaks of Panama Papers in April 2016. It all started when Sharifs named in Panama Papers by an international firm based in Panama. Soon after it, the Supreme Court of Pakistan was approached in third week of April 2016 and the apex court finally disqualified the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif on July 28, 2018. The apex court via National Accountability Court (NAB) sent Sharifs case to the accountability court for further probe into their alleged embezzlement. The 29-day Avenfield Flats case had its final judgment Friday where trail brazen trial ended up in Islamabad Accountability Court-I where Sharifs were convicted.

The case saw a large amount of data, 16,000 pages, presented in the Accountability Court of Judge Muhammad Bashir with around 600-hour arguments presented by the lawyers of accused as well as the NAB prosecutors and 18 witnesses during the duration of the case.

Judge Muhammad Bashir has been conducting the proceedings since September 8 last year when the NAB filed three corruption references against the Sharif family and one against then finance minister Ishaq Dar in light of the apex court's verdict in the Panama Papers case.

The Accountability Court conducted 107 hearings while the SC took over 273 days since the judges spent 150 hours in 50 hearings of the Panama case. Three of total five accused made appearances before the trial court while Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz were declared absconders who did not make appearance. Nawaz Sharif appeared 78 times, Maryam Nawaz made 80 appearances while Captain Safdar appeared 92 times before the accountability court. Nawaz Sharif spent over 370 hours in the trial court and almost equal time by his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif in the same courtroom. Interestingly, all these five accused did not appear before the apex court in Panama Papers case. But the petitioners Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid and Jamaat-e-Islami’s Sirajul Haq spent collectively over 100 hours in the apex court. Lawyers of all parties (NAB prosecutors, Sharifs’ lawyers and witnesses) took around 600 hours of the court to present their arguments before the Accountability Court. And interestingly, both parties’ counsels, Naeem Bokhari and Makhdoom Ali Khan took in particular, over 70 hours to conclude their arguments in Panama case. Imran Khan had attended 32 proceedings of the case, where he spent 93 hours in the courtroom I and II of the SC.

Accountability Court judge recorded statements of 18 witnesses where Sharifs’ lead counsels Khawaja Haris and Amjad Pervez presented their case before the trial court. Wajid Zia, head of Joint Investigation Team, and UK-based forensic expert Robert Radley were key characters in term of witnesses. Maryam Safdar and Captain Safdar could not contest elections with this convention while Nawaz Sharif was already out of electoral politics as disqualified by the apex court. The case involved a long investigation process involving half a dozen countries with the ex-prime minister and his children coming under close scrutiny. And Wajid Zia was the star witness of the prosecution in the case.

Next in line, after the trial court passed the verdict in London Flats reference, are three more references —establishment of Azizia Steel Company, Hill Metal Company, Jeddah and Flagship Investment Limited. Order on these three references is also expected in coming weeks. Sharifs do not pin hope for relief in these cases too.

With their associates Khawaja Haris and Amjad Pervez, counsel for Nawaz Sharif and his children, argued for more than 100 days before the judge. Haris made headlines when he conducted Zia's cross-examination for a period of 10 days, tiring both the prosecution and the observers.

UK-based forensic expert Robert W Radley came into limelight when he concluded that Calibri font could not have been used in the "fabricated" trust deed of Avenfield properties submitted in the court by Maryam Nawaz. Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, lead NAB Prosecutor General has been involved in the case since the beginning and stressed, “Nawaz Sharif is the actual owner of the London flats.”

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