Avenfield reference verdict against Nawaz, family to be announced at 2:30pm

Avenfield reference verdict against Nawaz, family to be announced at 2:30pm

ISLAMABAD: A plea by Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz to delay the verdict in the Avenfield reference case for seven-days was dismissed by the accountability court on Friday. 

The court will announce its verdict at 2:30pm now after initially reserving it until 12:30pm. The judge is present inside his chamber and issued the delay notice through his staff. 

All eyes are set on the accountability court hearing the high-profile corruption cases against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. Strict security arrangements, including paramilitary personnel, are in place at the Federal Judicial Complex, where the court is located. The roads leading to the complex have also been closed to traffic.  

Moreover, the district administration has imposed Section 144 in the capital to discourage mass gatherings. 

Plea to delay verdict dismissed 
As the hearing went under way, Judge Mohammad Bashir heard Sharifs' request, submitted on Thursday, requesting the trial court to postpone the verdict till he is back in the country next week.

After submitting Begum Kulsoom Nawaz's medical report, Maryam's counsel Amjad Pervez argued that the law stipulates the presence of the accused when the verdict is read out. After the prosecution opposed any delay at such a late stage of the trial, the judge reserved his verdict and adjourned the hearing for an hour. 

Later, the court dismissed Sharifs' plea and set 12:30pm as the time for announcing the verdict. 

Nawaz and Maryam have been in London since June 14 tending to Nawaz's wife Kulsoom, who is under medical treatment there, while Safdar is in Mansehra campagning for the July 25 election.  

On Tuesday, the court had reserved its verdict and ordered all accused to ensure their presence in court when the verdict is read out today.

The reference pertains to the ownership of the Sharif family's apartments at Avenfield House, London.

Apart from Nawaz, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt (retd) Safdar are accused in the case. Nawaz's sons, also wanted in the case, have been declared proclaimed offenders owing to their no-show.

‘Ready to go to jail’ 
Addressing the media in London on Wednesday, Nawaz had requested that the verdict be delayed for a few days as he wants "to hear the verdict in the courtroom" where he attended the hearings with his daughter.  

Maryam also stated that she is willing to go to prison to pay the high price of the path she has taken.

The accused have been charged as per the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, according to which they face maximum jail terms of 14 years and/or a fine, each.  

If convicted, Maryam and Safdar will be barred from contesting the July general election from Lahore and Mansehra, respectively. 

The trial
After the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz in the Panama Papers case on July 28, 2017, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), in light of the verdict, filed three corruption references against the Sharif family in the accountability court.

The trial against the Sharif family commenced on September 14, 2017, under the supervision of Supreme Court Justice Ijazul Ahsan, who was appointed a monitoring judge in the Panama case verdict. 

During the course of the trial, spread over 107 hearings, a total of 18 prosecution witnesses recorded their statements, including the Panama case joint investigation team (JIT) head, Federal Investigation Agency's Wajid Zia.

It was the Zia-led JIT's report which the Supreme Court used last year as a basis for Nawaz's disqualification and further investigation of the Sharif family's assets. 

After his statement was recorded, the defence counsels cross-examined Zia for around two weeks.

The prosecution also recorded statements of two witnesses through video-link from London — private solicitor Akhtar Raja and forensic expert Robert Radley — whose expertise was utilised by the JIT during its probe. 

Nawaz and the other accused were asked 127 questions during their cross-examination, while no witnesses appeared in their defence.

Nawaz and Maryam attended 78 hearings, skipping a few proceedings as they visited London in between to spend time with Begum Kulsoom Nawaz. 

Safdar, however, attended nearly all the proceedings. 

The apex court had directed the trial court to conclude the cases in six months. However, the court has only concluded proceedings of the Avenfield reference despite two deadline extensions — the latest one being July 10.  

The other two corruption references — Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment and offshore companies including Flagship Investment Limited — have yet to conclude.