Pakistan’s former premier Nawaz Sharif handed 7 years in Al Azizia case

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Staff Report

An accountability court of Pakistan on Monday handed ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif seven years in jail and a fine of $2.5 million in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference, and acquitted him in the Flagship Investments reference. The PML-N quaid is expected to be transported to Adiala Jail shortly.

The verdict was announced almost immediately after Nawaz arrived in the courtroom. Accountability Judge Arshad Malik while reading out the short order said that there was no case against Nawaz in the Flagship reference.

The accountability judge Muhammad Arshad Malik had reserved the verdict after completion of hearing in both the cases filed against three-time prime minister last week.

The judge on December 21 rejected an application by Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Haris to defer the judgment.

Sharif arrived in Islamabad from Lahore on Sunday to listen to the judgment in the courtroom. Security around the Judicial Complex in the capital has been beefed up to avoid any untoward incident.

Only those having permission of the registrar are being allowed to the accountability court.

A number of PML-N workers have also gathered outside the court premises to express solidarity with the supreme leader of the party. PML-N Spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, veteran politician Javed Hashmi have also arrived at the court.

On Dec 23, the PML-N supreme leader held a meeting with the PML-N president and younger brother Shehbaz Sharif at his Ministers’ Enclave residence to discuss forthcoming verdict and devise future course of action if he is convicted by the court.

The Sharif brothers decided to take a legal course of action whatever the accountability decides in Al-Azizia and Flagship references.

A total of 22 witnesses recorded their statements in the Al-Azizia reference, while 16 witnesses recorded their depositions in the Flagship reference.

Sharif opted not to present any defence in both cases. However, his lawyer Khawaja Haris presented a rebuttal to allegations levelled by the prosecution against his client.

Over the course of the trial, the PML-N supreme leader defended the accusation of being real owner and beneficiary of the offshore properties, which he maintained belongs to his sons Hassan and Hussain Nawaz.

He said the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), tasked to probe his wealth, had declared him as the real owner of Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metals Establishment, but he was not the owner nor was a he “benamidaar” of both the properties.

He added that the NAB failed to present any evidence to prove that he owned both the businesses.

The Supreme Court extended the deadline for conclusion of both the references for the eight times earlier this month with a caution that if the trial court didn’t wrap up proceedings and announce its verdict by Dec 24, it would have to come up with a satisfactory explanation.

Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar were released from jail after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suspended their prison terms.

The former premier, his daughter and her spouse were convicted by an accountability court in the Avenfield reference, one of the three references filed against members of the Sharif family, on July 6.

The corruption references were filed in compliance with the Supreme Court’s July 28 verdict last year.