Sharifs’ Avenfield case: CJ hints at suspending high court verdict

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Staff Report

Islamabad

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday challenged before the top court the remarks of Islamabad High Court (IHC) on the different aspects of the judgement in Avenfield corruption case.

The IHC on September 19 had granted bail to Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt retired Mohammad Safdar after suspending their respective prison sentences handed down by an accountability court in the Avenfield reference.

A three-member Supreme Court special bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, was hearing the appeal filed by NAB, urging the SC to review IHC’s verdict. NAB’s counsel argued that the court could only comment on the facts of the case if the accused’s life is in danger or in case the date of appeal is not fixed for a long period of time. The anti-graft body said that the IHC commented on the facts while hearing a constitutional petition.

The CJP pointed out that the NAB counsel had given similar arguments earlier as well. He further said that the court couldn’t comment on the facts of an ordinary case; however, this (Avenfield) was a special case.

The top judge said that the IHC had taken every aspect of the case into consideration before granting bail to the Sharif family members. He then directed Nawaz’s lawyer Khawaja Haris to present his arguments.

Haris said that the IHC verdict is only 12 pages long, in which the court had also written down the recommendations of all parties. He claimed that NAB’s law regarding grant of bail has changed several times in the past.

“The verdict was issued on a writ petition,” Justice Nisar said, noting that the IHC had declared that the evidence provided by NAB in the case was questionable.

“How can the high court point out faults in evidence while giving its verdict on an appeal for bail? This is what NAB has challenged,” he observed. He added that the apex court had earlier rejected NAB’s appeal out of “mercy”.

“How about we nullify [IHC] verdict?” asked the chief justice, and tell Haris to “produce one court verdict” that could be considered as a precedent.

Haris said that the case against Nawaz and his family was that of assets beyond income. He said that the assets in question belonged to Nawaz’s children and that NAB must prove that the assets exceeded their income.

The CJP, however, said that if Nawaz had admitted that his children owned the property, he must also provide details of his income at the time it was purchased. He said that according to law of income tax, the burden of proof lies on the accused.

The hearing was adjourned until Nov 12 and both parties were ordered to submit their arguments in writing.

Suspension of sentences

In its appeal, which was filed through NAB’s special prosecutor Akram Qureshi, the bureau pleaded the apex court to set aside the high court order, and recall the relief of suspending the sentence and the grant of bail to all the accused.

On Sept 19, a division bench of the high court had set free Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar after accepting the petitions seeking suspension of sentences awarded to them by the accountability court on July 6.

Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir convicted the three in the Avenfield apartment reference and awarded 10 years, seven years and one year imprisonment to them, respectively.

In its appeal, NAB contended that the high court had failed to appreciate that through its order, it had seriously prejudiced the case of the prosecution by holding that the trial court judgement suffered from obvious and glaring defects and infirmities and that the convictions and sentences handed down to the accused might not sustain ultimately.

According to the NAB’s appeal, the high court did not appreciate the settled proposition of the law that questions of facts could not be raised in the constitutional jurisdiction. It said the counsel representing the Sharifs indulged into the same exercise of referring to evidence contained in the proceedings of the trial court.

Thus, it was clear and unambiguous that in the garb of their case before the high court, an attempt was made on part of them to argue the appeal and seek re-appraisal of evidence which was not permissible in the exercise of the constitution jurisdiction of the high court, the appeals said.

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