ISLAMABAD: After failing to provide money trail in Al Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference, the Accountability Court on Monday sentenced former prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif for seven years rigorous imprisonment and fine money of US$ 25 million and Rs 1.5 billion.
Accountability Court Judge Arshad Malik in his 131 pages judgment, also disqualified Nawaz Sharif for holding any public office for a period of 10 years and to avail any financial facility in form of loan or grant.
According to the judgment reserved on December 19 and announced here Monday, the court acquitted Nawaz Sharif in Flagship Investment reference due to insufficient evidence. On the announcement of the verdict, NAB officials arrested Nawaz Sharif from the courtroom, who would be shifted to Kot Lakhpat Jail where arrangements had already been finalized.
The judgment read, “The prosecution has successfully established all the ingredients of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices against Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif as defined under section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 read with section 14(c) thereof, as per the charge framed for holding and being the true and real beneficial owner of the assets Al-Azizia Steel Company Limited (ASCL), Hill Metal Establishment (HME) and related remittances, beyond the sources of income as he failed to establish contrary thereto.
The convict is, hereby, sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term of 07 years along with a fine of Rs 1.5 billion and $25 million.”
It further read all assets, properties, rights, receivables, and interests of and in HME stand forfeited to the federal government, so as to implement and give effect to the said forfeiture.
The order stated that the convict shall forthwith cease to hold public office and shall stand disqualify for a period of ten years, to be reckoned from the date he is released after serving his above sentence. The convict shall also not be allowed to apply for a grant or allowed any loan or advances or other financial accommodation by any bank or financial institution owned or controlled by the government for a period of ten years.
All assets, properties, rights, receivables and interests of and in HME stand forfeited to the federal government, which shall forthwith approach the government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for implementation of this.
It further read that the accused namely Hassan Nawaz Sharif and Hussain Nawaz Sharif were absconding and had already been declared proclaimed offenders. Non-bailable arrest warrants be issued against them.
Reading the verdict, the judge said there was sufficient evidence to prove the accused guilty in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case. However, he acquitted the accused in the Flagship Investment reference as the prosecution had produced insufficient evidence against him.
The court wrote that it was evident that Nawaz Sharif had been manifestly unable to provide a reasonable explanation with regard to the source of funds utilized for establishing of ASCL and HME and the related remittances, rather, as a stratagem, a false, unsubstantiated and fabricated version was advanced, which is not tenable in the eyes of the law and cannot be accepted as correct.
The explanation of the absconding co-accused Hassan Nawaz on record and before the apex court and also the JIT with respect to the source of funding for setting up of ASCL and HME remain completely unsubstantiated as the two accused brothers are POs.
The accused persons have withheld the best available evidence original bank statements and related money trail of funds showing inflow and outflow and other relevant original documentary record, complete original copies of relevant agreements, official receipts of payments and remittances made and received and audited or certified financial statements and documentary and money trail relating GSM, ASCL and HME as well as all the original bank statements of all banks accounts in relation to the source of funds utilized for establishing ASCL and HME and origin of related remittances and also failed manifestly to discharge the burden under, inter alia, sections 122 and 129 of the QSO.
The court said the known and declared sources of income of Nawaz Sharif and his sons at the time of setting up of ASCL in 2001 and HME in 2005-6 were patently and grossly disproportionate to the reasonable cost of setting up this business.
It further added that the accused had failed to discharge the burden and requirements of Articles 117, 119 and 129 of the QSO as an authentic documentary and other evidence of source of income and their real true wealth and assets and sources of income for acquisition of such assets or property was within their sole possession and control.
The all three accused Nawaz Sharif and his absconding sons didn’t appear before the investigation officer. The call-up notices were served to Nawaz Sharif with a note that in case of nonappearance it would be constructed that the accused had nothing more to offer in his defense. The objections with regard to call-up objections rejected as the court was satisfied that the accused were well aware about the investigation initiated by NAB.
The court wrote that the three accused were very closely related and members of a tightly knit, monolithic, patriarchal family with close association and jointly held financial and business interests.
It may be mentioned here that as many as 38 witnesses recorded their statements in both the cases.
The Accountability Court-I and II held 183 hearings. Nawaz Sharif appeared in person before AC-I Judge Muhammad Bashir for 70 times and AC-II Judge Arshad Malik for 60 times.
After being convicted in the Avenfield case, Nawaz Sharif was produced before the courts 15 times from Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi.
Maryam Nawaz accompanied her father Nawaz Sharif in 65 hearings out of 70 conducted by the Accountability Court-I. Both the judges exempted Nawaz Sharif from appearance in 49 hearings.
The accountability court has already announced its judgment in the Avenfield reference, giving 10-year imprisonment to Nawaz Sharif, seven-year to his daughter Maryam and one year to his son-in-law Captain (Retd) Muhammad Safdar, which was later suspended by the Islamabad High Court.
In light of Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case, NAB had filed three references pertaining to Al-Azizia Steel Mills, Evenfield property and Flagship Investment against the former prime minister and his family members. He was accused of concealing and setting up businesses and purchasing property abroad in the name of his children.
The scandal surfaced on 3rd April 2016 when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) leaked 11.5 million documents of Panama Papers disclosing 214,488 offshore companies owned by influential persons across the globe. It also carried the names of Nawaz’s sons Hassan and Hussain Nawaz as owners of offshore companies and Avenfied apartments.
Political parties, particularly Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), filed petitions with the apex court seeking disqualification of Nawaz Sharif for having assets abroad, which he had not declared in the country. During the proceedings, the court constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the matter further.
Nawaz’s sons produced a letter of Qatari Prince Hammad bin Jassim in the apex court stating that the accused had made an investment with the royal family and the London apartments were purchased from that amount. However, the accused had failed to convince the prince to record his statement before the JIT.
In its July 28, 2017 judgment of the Panama Papers case, the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif as a member of the National Assembly, consequently as prime minister, directing NAB to file corruption references before the accountability court.
Relevant: Hermetically-sealed security had been imposed around Judicial Complex here ahead of the announcement of the verdict in Al Azizia and Flagship references against deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif by Accountability Court today. It is pertinent to mention here that Judge Muhammad Arshad Malik had heard the case and the court had reserved the judgments last Wednesday. Readers may recall that in September 2017, NAB had filed three references against Nawaz Sharif regarding Avenfield Properties, Al-Azizia, and Flagship Investment on the Supreme Court’s directives in the Panamagate verdict last year which made him leave the PM House. On 6 July this year, accountability judge Muhammad Bashir handed down convictions to Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam, and son-in-law Captain retired Muhammad Safdar in the Avenfield Properties reference and jailed them for ten years, seven years and one year respectively. But on September 19, the Islamabad High Court granted them bail after suspending the sentence. NAB’s appeal against the suspension of the sentence is pending before the top court. Security in Islamabad will remain high alert amid Al Azizia and Flagship Investment references verdict being announced tomorrow.