Islamabad, December 24 (Dawn): An Accountability court in Pakistan on Monday sentenced former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in jail in one of the corruption cases slapped on him. The court also fined Nawaz Sharif US$ 2.5 million, according to initial reports.
The Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz leader was taken into custody in court. Armored vehicles are standing by outside the premises to transport the former prime minister to prison, although it is unclear whether he will be taken to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail or Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail.
The verdict was announced almost immediately after Nawaz arrived in the courtroom. He has the option to challenge the verdict against him.
Accountability Judge Arshad Malik while reading out the short order said that there was no case against Nawaz in the Flagship reference. He was indicted under Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance in the Al-Azizia reference.
Section 9(a)(v) says: “A holder of a public office, or any other person, is said to commit or to have committed the offence of corruption and corrupt practices if he or any of his dependents or benamidar owns, possesses, or has acquired right or title in any assets or holds irrevocable power of attorney in respect of any assets or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, which he cannot reasonably account for, or maintains a standard of living beyond that which is commensurate with his sources of income.”
The short order said that the burden of proof lies on Nawaz in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case.
Nawaz’s lawyer Khawaja Haris requested that the PML-N quaid be shifted to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail instead of Adiala Jail. The court has reserved its verdict on the request and asked for Nawaz’s medical reports.
Lead-up to verdict
As Nawaz reached the Federal Judicial Complex in Islamabad, PML-N supporters gathered outside the premises began stone pelting police and trying to force their way into the court complex, DawnNewsTVreported. Police retaliated with tear gas shelling and baton-charging the supporters.
The judgement was expected to be announced between 9am to 10am. However, there was a delay for unspecified reasons and sources within the court said the judgement would be announced after 2pm.
Accountability Judge Mohammad Arshad Malik on Dec 19 had reserved judgement in both the references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the former premier.
PML-N workers started gathering outside the court to show their support for the party’s supreme leader as early as 7:30am.
Entry to the accountability court has been restricted to only those having permission of the registrar.
PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal, spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and veteran politician Javed Hashmi arrived at court today and were permitted to enter the premises. Other leaders, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, were not allowed to enter.
Nawaz, who arrived in Islamabad from Lahore on Sunday, visited a farmhouse this morning where he offered sadqa and held a meeting with senior party leaders, DawnNewsTV reported, citing sources.
He met lawyer Khawaja Haris, Hamza Shahbaz, Pervaiz Rasheed, former Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair, Tallal Chaudhry, and Tariq Fazal Chaudhry at the farmhouse, the sources said.
Security has been beefed up around the judicial complex, with heavy contingents of police and Rangers deployed around the building and along roads leading to the court.
Although Section 144 has been imposed in the capital, the Islamabad and Rawalpindi administrations have decided that there will be no blockade at the entry points of the capital, and security officials will only ensure strict checking.
Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investments
A long series of court cases in which the Sharif family have fought accusations of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets culminated in today’s judgment. Since September 2017, Nawaz has appeared before the accountability courts some 165 times.
On July 28, 2017, the SC verdict had, besides disqualifying then prime minister Nawaz from his position, also directed the accountability authority to file three references – regarding the family’s Avenfield Properties, Al-Azizia, and Flagship Investment – before the accountability court.
In September 2017, NAB filed three references against members of the Sharif family.
On July 6 this year, Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir handed down convictions to Nawaz, Maryam, and son-in-law Capt Mohammad Safdar (retd) in the Avenfield Properties reference and jailed them for 10 years, seven years and one year respectively.
But on Sept 19, the Islamabad High Court granted all three bail after suspending their sentences. NAB’s appeal against the suspension of the sentence remains pending before the SC.
The two references against Hussain and Hasan Nawaz, that the accountability court is to take up today, concern the setting up of the Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment in the United Kingdom. The accountability court has charged Nawaz in both references under Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
Accountability court Judge Mohammad Bashir, who had announced the Avenfield verdict, had recused himself from hearing the two remaining references against Nawaz.
The cases were then shifted to the court of Judge Arshad Malik.
NAB’s special prosecutor says the case against the Sharifs revolves around finding out how the family’s companies were established and through which resources.
According to a plea by the Sharif family in court, the late Mian Mohammad Sharif, [Nawaz Sharif’s father] established Gulf Steel Mills (GSM) in the UAE in 1974.
Seventy-five per cent shares of GSM were sold to Abdullah Kayed Ahli and the entity was re-named Ahli Steel Mills (ASM) in 1978 and the remaining 25pc shares were further sold to the ASM in 1980. This yielded an amount of AED 12 million which was invested with the Qatari royal family.
While the Sharifs were in exile, the late Mian Sharif had provided AED 5.4m for Hussain Nawaz and AED 4.2m for Hasan Nawaz to establish Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia, and Flagship Investment and 16 other companies in the UK.
According to the prosecution, the Sharif family has failed to justify the source of the funds provided to set up the firms and therefore, this is a case of owning assets beyond means.
The Sharif family has taken the stance that it was out of the AED 12m that the late Mian Sharif invested with the Qatari royal family, the prosecution says, and that Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani did not appear before the joint investigation team (JIT) to verify the details.
During the final arguments, the defence attorney maintained that the JIT made no serious effort to record the prince’s testimony, since this would have benefited the defence’s case.
PML-N plans to fight on in event of adverse ruling
According a private news channel quoting sources, Maryam Nawaz met her father on Sunday and decided to play an active part in party’s future politics.
At a separate PML-N leadership meeting yesterday, the party decided to opt to pursue a legal course of action and to launch protest drive if the verdict comes against the three-time former prime minister.
The PML-N founding leaders considered post-verdict scenarios and decided to launch a protest campaign both in parliament and on streets if a judgment came against the leadership, according to sources privy to the meeting that lasted two hours.
It was decided that the protest drive would be launched from Parliament House and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif would invite PPP leadership to his chambers to take them on board.
Besides, a campaign to mobilise party workers would be launched at the PML-N workers’ convention scheduled to be held in Lahore on Dec 30, said the sources privy to the Islamabad meeting.
The party has told local leaders across the district to bring people to Islamabad to welcome Nawaz.
A senior party leader told Dawn that all of the party’s candidates in the 2018 elections were asked to bring the maximum number of people, and targets were fixed for MNAs and MPAs. “Local leaders and former candidates across the district have been asked to remain in touch with people in their constituencies for the preparation of a new strategy after the court’s verdict,” he said.
Party chapters from all four districts in the Rawalpindi division will bring people to Islamabad, while party workers have been asked to remain in Islamabad from Sunday night to prevent any police action.
“Many workers and local leaders wanted to know about the future of the party, and they were informed to remain patient and wait a day after the verdict,” he said.
Local party leaders have ended their differences and been asked to unite for the party’s supreme leader, he said, adding that there were some differences between local leaders, who blamed each other for not bringing more people to hearings.
They have also been asked to visit door-to-door and tell people about the PTI government’s inability to bring the country out of crises.