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July 18, 2018

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Avenfield verdict: Sharif’s appeal to be heard after elections

ISLAMABAD: A division bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday heard the appeals of ousted prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar against their convictions by the Accountability Court-I in the Avenfield Apartments case.

The court adjourned the matter till the last week of July after issuing separate notices to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The convicts will therefore remain behind the bars till the July 25 general election.

However, the court dismissed all the three convicts’ requests to stay the corruption trial of the remaining references, as well as the Avenfield verdict till their appeals were decided by it.

The three have filed appeals with the court seeking to set aside the Accountability Court-I judgment that sentenced Nawaz to 11-year imprisonment, Maryam to eight-year and Muhammad Safdar to one year. The division bench comprises Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb.

The hearing went under way the moment Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb entered a packed courtroom. The bench also adjourned these two matters while AC-I Judge Muhammad Bashir has already recused from hearing Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment corruption references.

The judge has also filed an application in this regard and it depends on the IHC if it allows him to do so. Forwarding arguments, Nawaz's counsel Khawaja Haris told the two-member bench that the Accountability Court–I Judge Muhammad Bashir had already given his verdict in one reference and thus he could not hear the remaining two references.

Justice Aurangzeb asked Haris if the judge had given his opinion on the remaining two references in the Avenfield judgment. Haris remarked that it was not about the judge's bias or personal grudge but about the fairness of the trial.

The bench then issued a notice to the NAB prosecutor with regard to Nawaz's plea to transfer the remaining cases to another judge, directing him to submit a response at the next hearing in the last week of July.

Haris then pleaded the court to stay the trial court's order till the appeals were decided. Justice Kayani remarked that the NAB could be issued notices on the plea to stay proceedings as well.

Haris informed the court that the Avenfield judgment stated that it was a normal practice that parents were financially responsible for their children whereas the NAB's star witness Wajid Zia accepted during cross-examination thatthe Panama JIT could not find any proof that Nawaz's children were his dependents.

Amjad Pervez, advocate, legal counsel for Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar, said his client Captain Safdar had been mentioned in just two lines in 174-page judgment. He said nowhere in the judgment the accountability court judge discussed what his role was and why he had been convicted and on what grounds. After hearing arguments from Haris and Maryam's counsel Amjad Pervez, the court issued notices to NAB and also sought the complete record of the trial.

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