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IHC issues detailed judgment of Avenfield reference

IHC issues detailed judgment of Avenfield reference

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday issued a detailed judgment regarding its verdict to suspend the sentences of former premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain (r) Muhammad Safdar in the Avenfield reference.

The 41-page judgment on the IHC’s verdict has been compiled by IHC’s Judge Athar Minallah and has found that the conviction and sentences handed to the former prime minister and others in the Avenfield corruption reference “may not be ultimately sustainable”.

“In hindsight, the sentences awarded to the suspects cannot hold for a long time,” the judgment read.

“The accountability court which awarded the sentences did not state how or refer to evidence regarding how Maryam assisted Nawaz in the purchase of the Avenfield apartments,” it added.

The verdict also pointed out that though the prosecution had told the accountability court that Maryam was her father’s dependent, the accountability court’s judgement did not “refer to any evidence which would connect Petitioner No. 2 (Maryam) to have aided, assisted or conspired with Petitioner No. 1 (Nawaz) at the time when Avenfield Apartments were said to have been acquired between 1993 and 1996”.

Further, the judgement stated, “The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) mostly relied on Panama Papers case to argue their points against suspension in sentences.”

The verdict added that the observation was based on a “prima facie, tentative opinion” that the bench formed after a “plain reading of the [Avenfield] Judgment and tentative assessment of evidence permissible while considering a case for suspension of sentence in terms of section 426 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure)”.

“Suspects were also indicted under NAB ordinance Section 9(a)(iv) but a trial court acquitted them under the same. However, the prosecution did not challenge the acquittal,” the judgment further read.

“Court findings are not final and our opinions or observations will not influence the appeals,” the bench said in its judgment.

“There is yet another important question which has been raised by the learned counsel for Nawaz Sharif to the effect that there has been no determination of the value of the Avenfield Apartments at the time when they were alleged to have been acquired,” reads the judgement, adding that “there is no mention of this aspect in the judgment”.

The bench notes that when the judges asked the bureau regarding the value, they stated: “values could be obtained through ‘Google’”.

“This answer was not expected from learned counsels who have enviable professional experience and competence,” writes Justice Minallah.

Regarding Sadfar’s conviction, the bench noted that he had been convicted for lack of cooperation. However, the verdict declared that “the convictions of both these Petitioners [Maryam and Safdar] depend on whether the conviction handed down to Petitioner No. 1 would remain sustainable under the Ordinance of 1999”.

On September 19, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb gave the judgment on petitions filed by Nawaz, Maryam and Capt (r) Safdar challenging the Avenfield verdict against them.

Justice Minallah read the judgment and suspended the sentences handed to the three by the accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir on July 6. Nawaz, Maryam and Capt (r) Safdar were sentenced to 11 years, eight years and one year, respectively, in prison in the Avenfield properties reference.

“We accept the petitioners’ pleas seeking a suspension in their sentences,” Justice Minallah said.

Ordering their release, the two-judge bench directed them to submit bail bonds worth Rs0.5 million each.

The sentences will remain suspended until the final adjudication of the appeals filed by the petitioners.

On July 13, Nawaz and Maryam were arrested upon arrival in Lahore from London. Following which, the Sharifs had filed appeals for the Avenfield verdict to be overturned.

Further, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the NAB challenging the IHC’s decision to hear Sharifs’ petitions against the Avenfield verdict.

On September 15, the anti-graft body had moved the Supreme Court in an effort to keep the IHC from ruling on an application from the Sharif family seeking the suspension of the Avenfield verdict. However, imposing a Rs20,000 fine on the bureau, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar noted that justice should be served to petitioners.