Another relief: Nawaz has been acquitted in the Al-Azizia case

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Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif was acquitted Tuesday in the Al-Azizia case by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

On December 24, 2018, the accountability court sentenced the former prime minister to seven years in prison and fined him 2.5 million pounds.

An appeal was filed by Nawaz against the decision of the accountability court, requesting that the sentence and fine imposed along with the conviction be annulled. 

A favorable verdict boosts Nawaz’s bid to become the next prime minister. His lifetime disqualification from parliament membership now stands in the way of his candidacy for the upcoming elections on February 8, 2024.

The PML-N is hopeful that the three-time prime minister will also achieve a positive outcome in this matter.

Irfan Qadir told Geo News that it is unfortunate that the former prime minister is facing such sham cases. He called on the judges who convicted Nawaz to apologize to the nation for their actions.

After the controversial Panama verdict, the Supreme Court instructed the NAB to file references against Nawaz.

The NAB prosecutor has failed to provide any evidence against the PML-N supremo despite the case having been pending since 2017, noting that the reference was filed by the instructions of the JIT.

Moreover, Nawaz has also been acquitted in the Avenfield Apartments case, after the high court last month accepted his appeal. 

During the hearing

The divisional bench comprised of IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb heard Nawaz’s appeal against his conviction in the Al-Azizia reference and NAB’s request for an extension of the politician’s imprisonment in the case. Both petitions were heard as a whole.

The court heard testimony from Nawaz, who was accompanied by his attorneys.

Wajid Zia, the prosecution’s primary witness, acknowledged that there was no evidence that the former prime minister’s children were dependent on him at the hearing.

During the trial, the court inquired on what basis the burden of proof was shifted to Nawaz.

The former prime minister’s legal counsel Advocate Amjad Pervez informed the bench that the trial court relied on the three miscellaneous applications in addition to Nawaz’s speech in the National Assembly and Hussain Nawaz’s television interview.

According to the lawyer, evidence from one case cannot be used in another, especially when the nature of the two cases differs.

Additionally, he noted that it was the prosecution’s responsibility to determine the value of [Nawaz’s] assets and income and that the former prime minister depended on his sons.

It was the prosecution’s responsibility to prove that benami assets were established by Nawaz.

“If [the prosecution] has not provided any evidence [in this regard], then the said case does not fall within the category of ‘assets beyond means’,” the lawyer emphasized. “There has never been a case in which the accused has been sentenced for not providing clear and logical evidence regarding the ownership of the assets.”

In response to Pervez’s argument, the NAB prosecutor informed the court that the references were filed in the accountability court under a ruling of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC), which also constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) to investigate the references.

According to the NAB official, the anti-graft body investigated the issue of benami assets following the SC’s decision.

According to him, the charges against Nawaz were based on allegations of corrupt practices. According to him, the decision of the accountability court in the Al-Azizia reference is “biased”.

According to Justice Hassan, the NAB can present its arguments on merit and have the conviction upheld.

In the meantime, Justice Farooq directed the NAB prosecutor to present the facts and then relate them to the case in his arguments.

However, the court denied NAB’s request to remand the case back to the trial court and approved Nawaz’s appeal.

Reference to Al-Azizia

Hussain, who is the eldest son of the former prime minister, has claimed that in order to establish the steel conglomerate in Saudi Arabia, his grandfather had given him a sum of $5,4 million. Upon the request of Nawaz, a Qatari royal made the payment on his behalf. After that, scrap machinery from their Ahli Steel Mills in Dubai was transported to Jeddah in 2001 so that Al-Azizia could be established.

At the same time, the JIT constituted to investigate the allegations of graft in the mills insisted that the real owner of the mills was Nawaz, whose son was operating them on his behalf for the benefit of his father. Hussain was 29 years old at the time of the incident. According to the JIT, Nawaz received 97% of the company’s profits in the form of ‘gifts’ from Hill Metals Establishment, another company established by Hussain in Saudi Arabia back in 2005.

Approximately 77% of the said amount was transferred by Nawaz to his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif. As in the previous case, the NAB maintained that because Nawaz has obtained a large profit from Hussain’s companies in the past, he is the real owner and not Hussain’s son.

In spite of this, during the proceedings, the NAB was unable to substantiate its claim with documentary evidence and instead placed the burden of proof on the accused to prove their case.

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