ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has opposed transfer of two pending references against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to the court of any other judge and demanded that the matter be kept within the same court that convicted Mr Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Capt Muhammad Safdar in the Avenfield properties reference last month.
Arguing before a division bench of the Islamabad High Court which heard appeals of the Sharifs for transfer of Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment references on Monday, NAB’s additional deputy prosecutor general Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said that Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir was the senior most judge in the subordinate judiciary of Islamabad. Since Judge Bashir had heard the three references against the Sharifs for over 10 months, the references should not be transferred to any other court in the interest of justice, he added.
The IHC bench comprises Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb.
When Justice Aurangzeb asked Mr Abbasi “do you think that the judge who discarded the agreement of 1980 may treat this as valid evidence in the rest of two references”, the NAB prosecutor said that if the accused would not produce any other evidence and take the same plea as they did in the Avenfield properties reference, the judge might pass a similar verdict.
Prosecutor quotes instances where judges turned down such requests on apprehensions as expressed by the defence counsel
He, however, argued that it was the apprehension of the defence counsel that the judge might give a verdict against the accused, adding that in case they would bring tangible evidence and produce relevant witnesses, there would be an altogether different decision.
The lead defence counsel, Khawaja Haris, had earlier last week argued that at least 12 grounds were common in three NAB references against the Sharifs. They included an agreement of 1980, subsequent investment of 12 million dirham with the Qatari Royal family, the letters of Qatari Prince Hamad bin Jassim supporting the investment, a worksheet relied by Mr Sharif’s sons Hussain and Hassan Nawaz to show source of investment for acquiring assets/businesses, issue of dependency, speeches of Mr Sharif as well as his children and finding about a Dubai-based company known as Capital FZE.
The NAB prosecutor argued that despite similarities in pending references, the trial court judge should not be changed.
He quoted a few instances where the judges had turned down requests to transfer cases on such apprehensions.
Justice Aurangzeb pointed out that unlike routine cases, this case was complicated as the facts were interconnected in these references.
The prosecutor argued that the Sharif family did not produce anything in their defence during the trial of the Avenfield properties reference.
He said the trial in pending references was at final stage as out of 16 prosecution witnesses in the Flagship Investment reference, 14 had testified and in the Hill Metal Establishment reference, 18 prosecution witnesses had completed testimony, while the 19th witness, Wajid Zia, was being cross-examined.
According to him, the judge could recuse himself from conducting trial proceedings, but in this case upon filing of transfer applications he referred the matter to the IHC chief justice.
The IHC bench adjourned the hearing till Tuesday (today).
NAB had in September last year filed these references in the accountability court of Islamabad on the directive of the Supreme Court.
Judge Bashir, who has been working as the accountability judge Islamabad since 2012, was assigned these references.
He was appointed as accountability judge for a period of three years but was granted extension in 2015.
In March 2018, after completing second term, he was given another extension of three years by the order of the Supreme Court while he was hearing the references.
Judge Bashir convicted Mr Sharif, Ms Maryam and Mr Safdar in the Avenfield reference on July 6 and sentenced them to 10 years, seven years and one year in prison, respectively, besides imposing heavy fine on them and disqualifying them from holding public office for 10 years.
The lawyers of Mr Sharif and his children challenged the sentence and filed appeals for transfer of pending references to another judge, saying that Judge Bashir had not only discarded the money trail but also other evidence on which the accused were relaying upon.
Therefore, they said, there was likelihood that in the other two references, the same judge might discard the same evidence.