IHC surprised at ‘lapse’ by NAB in Avenfield case

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday expressed surprise over an alleged lapse by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) when the lead defence counsel informed the bench that the investigation officer did not know who had prepared a cash-flow chart to show the income of former premier Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield properties reference.

The defence counsel, Khwaja Haris Ahmed, stated this while advancing his arguments before the IHC at the hearing of petitions seeking suspension of the sentences awarded to former PM Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired captain Mohammad Safdar by an accountability court in the Avenfield reference.

He informed the IHC division bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb that it was not clear how NAB counted the income of the ex-premier to compare it with the value of the London flats. He said NAB’s investigation officer produced the cash-flow chart to show the income of the ousted prime minister at the time of purchase of London apartments.

Asks defence counsel to conclude arguments on petition seeking suspension of sentences today

When Justice Minallah asked who had prepared this chart, Advocate Haris said the IO did not know who had prepared the document that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had annexed in its report. The counsel further argued that JIT head and star prosecution witness Wajid Zia, too, did not say anything about this chart while recording his testimony before the accountability court.

“How could such a lapse occur in such a crucial case?” asked Justice Minallah.

NAB’s special prosecutor Mohammad Akram Qureshi responded that he had noted this point and would assist the court on his turn. He later argued that the JIT had submitted this cash-flow chart before the Supreme Court, which then referred it to NAB. “The Supreme Court had referred this to NAB for proper investigation,” he informed the IHC bench.

Mr Haris pointed out that the judgement of the trial court did not mention value of the London property to compare it with the alleged cash-flow.

The bench observed that the trial court did not award maximum punishment to the convicts and surely there would be for some cogent reason for it. It also noted that NAB did not file an appeal, indicating that the prosecution was satisfied with the trial court’s verdict.

Earlier, Mr Haris was asked to satisfy the IHC for taking up petitions seeking suspension of the sentences when the alternative remedy of appeal against the conviction was available. The bench asked why the petitioners sought relief under Section 426 of the criminal procedure code related to grant of bail when Section 32 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 provided that the appeal be decided within a month.

The defence counsel said the timeframe mentioned in the NAO for disposal of appeal had already lapsed. He said since the SC had set a six-week deadline for the accountability court to conclude the pending trial in Al-Azizia and Flagship Investment and he was supposed to plead the references on a day-to-day basis before the accountability court, it was not possible for him to argue on an appeal before the IHC.

He said the SC had also ordered the trial court to conclude the references first. The orders of the apex court were binding upon all courts, he said, adding that the appeals might be deferred till the completion of the trial in pending references in order to comply with the SC direction.

The NAB’s special prosecutor argued that it was not a valid excuse for postponing the filing of an appeal, as proceeding in the trial court should not be given preference over the hearing of cases in the high courts. However, Justice Minallah said: “Since the Supreme Court has given direction to conclude references in the accountability court within the stipulated timeframe, therefore, we cannot suggest the counsel for the petitioners to pursue the appeals first.”

The judge then asked the defence counsel, Khawaja Haris and Amjad Pervez, to conclude their arguments by Wednesday after which the prosecutor would be asked to advance his arguments.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2018

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