ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday acquitted PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz and her husband Captain (R) Safdar in the Avenfield Reference, nullifying the conviction handed to them in 2018 by an accountability court.
Shortly before, the IHC had reserved its verdict on an appeal filed by Maryam Nawaz against the sentence awarded to her in the Avenfield Reference. An accountability court, just ahead of the 2018 general elections, slapped Maryam Nawaz with a fine of £2 million and sentenced her to seven years in jail for being “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” and one year for non-cooperation with the bureau — sentences which were due to run concurrently.
PMLN supremo Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in jail for possessing assets disproportionate to the known sources of income, while Maryam’s husband Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar was handed down two-year rigorous imprisonment. In August 2019, Maryam was arrested in the case while she was visiting her father in prison. Later, a local court granted her bail in November 2019.
At the outset, NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said that the affidavit by Tariq Shafi was put on record, which mentioned the sale of the Gulf Steel Mills. Abbasi said that the SC raised a clear objection as to how the steel mills were established as Shafi failed to prove that he was a partner in the business. At this, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani said that Zia’s role in the JIT was of an investigation officer.
“The JIT didn’t state any facts, but provided only the gathered information,” he said, adding that an opinion cannot be taken as evidence. Justice Kayani said that the case against Maryam Nawaz might be true but NAB failed to prove it.
Justice Farooq asked how all this proves the allegation against the petitioners. “Prove the link of Maryam Nawaz and Nawaz Sharif with the case of assets beyond means,” he remarked. “We cannot announce a verdict on the basis of public knowledge of some hearsay,” the justice remarked before reserving the verdict on Maryam’s plea.
The NAB prosecutor said that the body has proved the ownership of the property, while its value is unimportant. In response, Justice Farooq said that it was important to determine the value of assets if they were worth more than the income of the person in question. Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said that the case was related to the property abroad and its documents were also filed there. “They brought the documents that were accessible,” he added.
Responding to the NAB’s prosecutor, Justice Mohsin said that this case has been closed and he has to present the title document which is hidden somewhere. The prosecutor showed the registration documents of the Neilsen and Nescol companies.
Justice Farooq questioned the authenticity of the documents, to which, Maryam’s lawyer Amjad Parvez said that this was a copy of the attested certificate. “How is this company linked to Nawaz Sharif,” asked Justice Mohsin.
Justice Farooq said that Nelson and Nescol must have bought the properties in 1993 and the Sharif family has link to this property since 2006. At this, Justice Farooq said that the documents claim that Maryam is the owner. “Maryam was not a public office holder at that time and hence, there is no case of the assets beyond means against her. This can be a separate tax case,” he said, questioning if Maryam is still the beneficial owner of these properties.
In conversation with journalists after the IHC ruling, Maryam said she was thankful to Allah for making Nawaz and her proud today. “This is how lies come to an end,” Maryam said, as she thanked her legal team for fighting her case throughout the years. While she was addressing the journalists, she received a call from her “uncle” as well.
Maryam further said no political leader in the history of the country has been through such stringent accountability as Nawaz. “He now has more respect than ever [after my acquittal].” The PMLN vice president said despite Nawaz getting advisories for not facing hearings in the Avenfield Reference, not only he, but his children also faced trial.
Moving on, Maryam asked PTI Chairman Imran Khan what he would do now as he has been proved “a liar” and “a conspirator”, while Nawaz has come out on top. Maryam told Khan that he is a “helpless” person now and whether or not he decides to answer for his deeds, history will ensure that he was answerable for it.
In response to a question that the case was registered against her before the PTI came to power and that some other powers were behind it, Maryam said, “Who was the beneficiary of all this? Had Nawaz remained here, then even in three lifetimes, Imran could not have come into power.”
Shedding light on the alleged audio leak of Khan and his then principal secretary Azam Khan, Maryam said she wasn’t surprised when the sound bite surfaced. “This person, who spread destruction, divide, and anarchy in Pakistan, remained in power for four years. He does not even know how serious it is to play with national security,” she said.
Maryam said when Khan got to know that the vote of no-confidence would succeed against him and even his party’s lawmakers were not ready to support him, he concocted a “conspiracy” that his government will be ousted through a US-backed plan.
“He played with the country’s fate. He thinks of the country as a game and tampers with its future, just like he did at Lahore stadium,” she said in response to Azam’s alleged comments of tampering with the minutes of the meeting in which Khan planned on calling then-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and ask him to read out the alleged threat letter.
Maryam said Khan repeatedly tells the people to break the shackles of slavery but refuses to name America and claims that “X, Y, and Z” people are behind his ouster. She then criticised PTI leader Shaukat Tarin for directing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab’s finance ministers to write a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and withdraw from the deal.
“Do you know what would have happened had Pakistan not got the money from IMF? What can we say about the mindset of such a person?” she asked. Maryam added that Khan “violated his oath” by mudslinging and “conspiring” against his political opponents. She also said that despite being the prime minister, Khan attacked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), a constitutional institution.
The PMLN vice president said there was no conspiracy against Khan and that two “evil minds” were involved in concocting the US-backed conspiracy scheme. She said that there was nothing more to it.
Maryam then slammed Khan for using the “religion card” and said that despite all his acts in the previous months, he has not been caught as all the institutions and the government have not taken action against him. “Who is he?” she lashed out.
The PMLN vice president said that the government-formed joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the audio should conduct daily hearings like the JIT that investigated the Panama Leaks case. It should include federal ministers, members of the Inter-Services Intelligence, officials from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), members of the law ministry, and representatives of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), she said.
Maryam said Azam, Khan, Qureshi, foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood, and the ambassador involved in the matter, Asad Majeed, should be called in by the JIT. “If we can’t even do this, we should go home and sleep.”
PMLN supremo Nawaz Sharif, while talking to his aides in London, congratulated his daughter Maryam and claimed that the cases against the father-daughter duo were baseless. “God has unveiled the liars today. The sentences were announced hastily to prevent us from participating in the 2018 elections,” said the former prime minister, adding that some people wanted him not to come back to Pakistan after the sentences were announced.
He said that he returned to Pakistan for his arrest with his daughter after leaving behind an ailing wife. In a brief tweet right after the verdict, Maryam’s uncle Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the “edifice of lies, slander and character assassination” had come crumbling down.
“Maryam’s acquittal in the Avenfield Reference is a slap in the face of so-called accountability system that was employed to target the Sharif family. My congratulations to Maryam beti and Safdar,” he said.
Thursday’s hearing on Maryam’s appeal against the sentence was headed by Justice Aamer Farooq. He said after hearing all arguments that the prosecution’s case might be valid but it failed to prove the allegations.
Meanwhile, Maryam Nawaz received a phone call from PPP Chairman and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Both congratulated Maryam Nawaz on her acquittal in the Avenfield reference.
Both the leaders paid tribute to the legal and political struggle of Maryam Nawaz Sharif. “You faced political vendetta with bravery, courage and perseverance,” said both the leaders in their separate telephonic conversation with Maryam Nawaz.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed their best wishes for Maryam Nawaz and the Sharif family. Maryam Nawaz thanked Bilawal and Fazlur Rehman for their support.
Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb said that PMLN Vice President Maryam Nawaz met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif after the decision of the Islamabad High Court.
In a tweet, she said that Shehbaz Sharif congratulated Maryam Nawaz on her and Captain (R) Safdar’s acquittal. While expressing her gratitude to Allah Almighty over the acquittal of Maryam Nawaz, she said “Allah Almighty has done great grace, Allah has given great honour.”
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