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Nawaz clears another legal hurdle in way of elections, secures acquittal from IHC in Al-Azizia case

Nawaz clears another legal hurdle in way of elections, secures acquittal from IHC in Al-Azizia case

ISLAMABAD, DEC 12: In yet another major relief for the PML-N, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday acquitted PML-N Supremo Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference.

A two-judge bench comprising IHC Chief Justice (CJ) Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb announced the verdict, which was reserved earlier in the day, while hearing Nawaz’s appeal against his conviction in the Al-Azizia reference.

The same bench had acquitted the PML-N leader in the Avenfield reference on November 29.

The Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference pertains to a case in which he was sentenced to seven years in jail on Dec 24, 2018. He was also fined Rs1.5 billion and US$25 million.

The reference pertains to the Sharifs being unable to justify the source of the funds provided to set up Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment (HME) in Saudi Arabia.

The IHC had declared him a proclaimed offender in the case in December 2020. After leaving for London on medical grounds, Nawaz remained there for nearly four years and only returned to the country in October this year.

Soon after his return, Nawaz had formally filed two separate applications seeking restoration of his appeals against the conviction in reference.

In the application, the PML-N supreme leader had said that while he was abroad for medical treatment, the pending appeals were dismissed for non-prosecution. The application requested the court to revive the pending appeals to decide on these pleas on merit.

The IHC had on Oct 24 revived Nawaz’s app­eals in the two reference.

At the previous hearing, the court had turned down the National Accountability Bureau’s suggestion that Nawaz’s conviction in the reference be set aside and the case be re-tried. It had also declared that it would decide the PML-N supremo’s appeal on merit.

Ahead of today’s hearing, Nawaz arrived in court along with senior PML-N leaders including Ishaq Dar and Azam Nazeer Tarar.

Today’s hearing
At the outset of the hearing, Nawaz’ lawyer Amjad Pervaiz came to the rostrum and told the court that he wanted to argue on the matter of Nawaz’s dependents.

However, IHC CJ Farooq pointed out that the PML-N lawyer had completed his arguments in the case. Pervaiz insisted that he wanted to argue on one point in this regard.

The court then asked whether NAB had proven anything related to Nawaz’s dependents. The lawyer responded that one of the witnesses, Wajid Zia, had admitted that there was no evidence pertaining to Nawaz’s dependents.

He said that there were several court verdicts present regarding the definition of benami. Pervaiz then presented 13 separate verdicts in benami cases. He contended that the legal team had also raised its objections in front of the trial court that convicted Nawaz.

He said that the trial court had relied on three major points. Nawaz’s lawyer said that the trial court had kept the civil miscellaneous applications filed in the Panama case as the basis.

“All three civil miscellaneous applications were filed by Maryam Nawaz, Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz,” he contended. He highlighted that not a single civil miscellaneous application was filed by Nawaz.

“In its judgement, the trial court held that the civil miscellaneous applications were criminal material,” the lawyer said. “Not a single application proves that Nawaz was the owner of these assets,” he said.

At one point, the IHC CJ asked about the contents of the civil miscellaneous applications. “The applications were not placed on record. Documents related to them were placed on record,” Pervaiz responded.

He reiterated that the applications did not state that Nawaz owned the assets, adding that they instead stated that the matter did not concern the PML-N supremo.

“It is a principle that evidence in one case cannot be admissible in another. Especially when the nature of both cases is separate,” he said.

Pervaiz further said that the trial court also relied on an interview given by Hussain Nawaz to a private TV channel in 2016. “Even though Hussain was saying in the interview that the matter did not concern Nawaz,” he said.

Nawaz’s lawyer further said that an accused was innocent until proven guilty. He said that the onus was on the prosecution to prove the charges against the accused. “The burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the accused,” Pervaiz said.

“The accused cannot be forced to prove his innocence,” he said. Nawaz’s lawyer said that there was no previous assets case where the accused was convicted without presenting clear proof of ownership.

“The prosecution could not present a single piece of evidence. Therefore, the the burden of proof cannot be transferred onto the accused,” he said as he wrapped up his arguments.

The NAB prosecutor then came to the rostrum and began his arguments. He said that a references were filed in accountability courts on the directives of the Supreme Court. He further said that a joint investigation team (JIT) was formed to probe the NAB references.

He said that the accountability watchdog conducted its own investigation. “In cases concerning assets, there are only two to three methods of investigation,” he said, adding that all the evidence collected was part of the record.

These also included statements recorded under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, he said. He also read out loud some parts of Nawaz’s indictment.

“Al-Azizia and Hill metal are the two prime allegations. Tell us when the Al-Azizia allegations were brought,” asked the IHC CJ. “You were the prosecutor. Tell us what evidence you possessed. Tell us on what basis you transferred the burden of proof onto the accused,” he said.

“Leave the law. We have the read the laws. Come straight to the prosecution,” the IHC CJ told the NAB lawyer. “Is there any evidence on record? Is there any witness present?” he asked.

The NAB lawyer said that Nawaz was indicted on charges of corruption and corrupt practices. Witnesses from the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) were presented in court, he said.

“This is a case of white collar crime,” he said. He further said that evidence was collected from across the country and said that letters were also written to collect evidence from abroad.

More to follow….

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