ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday in the Avenfield properties reference.
Accountability Court-I Judge Mohammad Bashir sentenced will shortly be announcing the verdict in the Avenfield properties reference against and his family.
After setting three deadlines — 3pm, 2:30pm and 12:30pm — the court said it would announce the verdict at 3:30pm.
However, the judge called lawyers of both sides inside his chambers and disallowed the media.
He then stated that the media will be called in when the judgment is being read out.
Earlier, the judge, present inside his chamber, had issued the delay notices through the court staff but the 3:30 pm deadline was informed of by the judge himself.
The judge explained that they have to make an appropriate number of photocopies of the judgment for distribution to the relevant parties — hence the delay.
All eyes are set on the accountability court hearing the high-profile corruption cases against the former prime minister and his family. Strict security arrangements, including paramilitary personnel, are in place at the Federal Judicial Complex, where the court is located. The roads leading to the complex have also been closed to traffic.
Moreover, the district administration has imposed Section 144 in the capital to discourage mass gatherings.
Plea to delay verdict dismissed
As the hearing went under way, Judge Bashir heard Sharifs’ request, submitted on Thursday, requesting the trial court to postpone the verdict till he is back in the country next week.
After submitting Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s medical report, Maryam’s counsel Amjad Pervez argued that the law stipulates the presence of the accused when the verdict is read out. After the prosecution opposed any delay at such a late stage of the trial, the judge reserved his verdict and adjourned the hearing for an hour.
Later, the court dismissed Sharifs’ plea and set 12:30pm as the time for announcing the verdict. However, that deadline was later pushed twice.
‘All of this not new for Nawaz Sharif’
Prior to the verdict, Maryam took to Twitter, urging the “PML-N’s lions” not to get unsettled no matter what the verdict.
“All of this is not new for your Nawaz Sharif, he has faced exile, disqualification, and life imprisonment [sentence]in the past,” she said further in the series of tweets.
Reports from London stated that the former premier will hear the verdict at the Avenfield apartments along with Maryam and former finance minister Ishaq Dar, and then proceed to visit his ailing wife at Harley Street Clinic.
Nawaz and Maryam have been in London since June 14 tending to Nawaz’s wife Kulsoom, who is under medical treatment there, while Nawaz’s son-in-law, Capt (r) Safdar, is in Mansehra campagning for the July 25 election.
Speaking to voters today, Safdar said he does not fear any verdict against him, adding that he will be exonerated in the court of public opinion.
On Tuesday, the court had reserved its verdict and ordered all accused to ensure their presence in court when the verdict is read out today.
The reference pertains to the ownership of the Sharif family’s apartments at Avenfield House, London.
Apart from Nawaz, Maryam and Capt (retd) Safdar, Nawaz’s sons are also accused in the case. They were declared proclaimed offenders last year owing to their no-show and will face a separate trial whenever they join the proceedings.
The accused have been charged as per the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, according to which they face maximum jail terms of 14 years and/or a fine, each.
If convicted, Maryam and Safdar will be barred from contesting the July general election from Lahore and Mansehra, respectively.
After the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz in the Panama Papers case on July 28, 2017, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), in light of the verdict, filed three corruption references against the Sharif family in the accountability court.
The trial against the Sharif family commenced on September 14, 2017, under the supervision of Supreme Court Justice Ijazul Ahsan, who was appointed a monitoring judge in the Panama case verdict.
During the course of the trial, spread over 107 hearings, a total of 18 prosecution witnesses recorded their statements, including the Panama case joint investigation team (JIT) head, Federal Investigation Agency’s Wajid Zia.
It was the Zia-led JIT’s report which the Supreme Court used last year as a basis for Nawaz’s disqualification and further investigation of the Sharif family’s assets.
After his statement was recorded, the defence counsels cross-examined Zia for around two weeks.
The prosecution also recorded statements of two witnesses through video-link from London — private solicitor Akhtar Raja and forensic expert Robert Radley — whose expertise was utilised by the JIT during its probe.
Nawaz and the other accused were asked 127 questions during their cross-examination, while no witnesses appeared in their defence.
Nawaz and Maryam attended 78 hearings, skipping a few proceedings as they visited London in between to spend time with Begum Kulsoom Nawaz.
Safdar, however, attended nearly all the proceedings.
The apex court had directed the trial court to conclude the cases in six months. However, the court has only concluded proceedings of the Avenfield reference despite two deadline extensions — the latest one being July 10.
The other two corruption references — Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment and offshore companies including Flagship Investment Limited — have yet to conclude.