ISLAMABAD - Islamabad Accountability Court Wednesday recorded statements of two prosecution witnesses as the graft trials against Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar formally began.

At the start of the proceedings, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) presented its first two witnesses in court, both of whom recorded their statements and one of them was cross-examined by the defence side.

On separate applications filed in the court, Nawaz and Maryam were granted conditional one-week and one-month exemptions from personal appearance, respectively, for proceeding abroad to see ailing Begum Kalsoom Nawaz – the wife of the ousted prime minister.

To a query of defence counsel Khawaja Harris about the status of Nawaz’s absconding sons – Hassan and Hussain, judge Mohammad Bashir said they both would be treated as proclaimed offenders.

As usual Nawaz Sharif along with his daughter and son-in-law arrived at the accountability court in a large cavalcade, while heavy police force was deployed for security at the court.

A good number of ruling party leaders and activists were also present outside the court premises and they raised slogans on seeing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president.

At the outset of the court proceedings, prosecution witnesses – Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Joint Registrar Sidra Mansoor and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) representative Jahangir Ahmad – recorded their statements.

Sidra recorded her statement in the Avenfield flats reference, informing the court that she had appeared before NAB investigation officer in Lahore on August 18 and provided the anti-corruption agency documents containing Sharif family’s financial records.

The records that NAB has presented in court carry her signature and thumb impression, she said, adding that the documents handed by her to NAB also contained audit reports of Sharif family’s various businesses.

In her statement, SECP officer revealed that the Hudaibiya Paper Mills audit reports consistently showed Rs4,946,000 in the company’s accounts for five years between 2000 to 2005.

When defence lawyer Khawaja Haris was given the floor to cross-examine the witness, he observed that the audit reports given to NAB were photocopies and did not have the company’s stamp on them.

Defending the authenticity of the documents, Sidra Mansoor said that the photocopies were provided to the SECP by the Sharifs’ company as per the law.

FBR Inland Revenue Department’s Jahangir Ahmad also recorded his witness statement and testified that all tax records that NAB had provided to the court were given to the accountability body by his office.

Jahangir was called to appear in court again in next hearing on November 22 for cross-questioning by the defence.

Proclaimed offenders

 

The matter of declaring Nawaz Sharif’s sons – Hassan and Hussain Nawaz –proclaimed offender could not be taken up but to a query of defence counsel Khawaja Harris about their status, judge Mohammad Bashir said that both were proclaimed offenders as they failed to avail the last one-month notice to join the trial and would now be treated as such.

The court earlier had separated their trial from other members of the family and issued perpetual warrants for arrest. Orders have also been given to confiscate their shares in six companies.

However, the court would formally take up the matter on November 22 and most likely the prosecution would also move application under Section 31-A of the NAB Ordinance seeking punishment in absentia to both of them for wilfully avoiding court.

The Sharif family maintains that Hassan and Hussain will not appear before the court as they are British nationals and hence not subject to Pakistan’s laws.

The court observation about the status of Hassan and Hussain came hours after Nawaz, his daughter and son-in-law had left the court.

Origin of graft cases

Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified ex-PM Nawaz Sharif on July 28 in Panama Papers case. The court found that Nawaz had acted in an untrustworthy manner by failing to declare a salary from his son’s Dubai-based company ahead of the 2013 election.

The apex court in its judgement also ordered the country’s anti-corruption watchdog to open several cases against him, his family and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

According to evidence submitted by the National Accountability Bureau, Sharif family owns four posh London apartments, two steel mills in Saudi Arabia and several offshore companies in the United Kingdom.

The Supreme Court trial came almost a year after Panama Papers revealed in April 2016 that three of Nawaz Sharif’s children owned offshore assets not shown on his family’s wealth statement, including luxury apartments in London.