ISLAMABAD - The trial court judge on Thursday deferred hearing in a corruption reference against the Sharif family after getting annoyed over the continuous meddling of the NAB prosecutor and the defence counsel as the prosecution witness was recording his statement in the Avenfield properties corruption reference.

While Wajid Zia, head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that probed the Panama Papers scam, was recording his statement, Amjad Parvez, representing Maryam Nawaz and Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar, stood up and objected that the JIT report was not admissible as evidence.

The defence counsel objected that Zia could only refer to the documents and instances and he could not narrate instances involving other persons or exhibit summaries, opinion or conclusions as evidence as these are not admissible under Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Law of Evidence).

At this, NAB prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi in a loud voice said that what is this happening. He said that the defence counsel was not letting the witness to complete his testimony and he is objecting again and again.

Accountability Court judge Mohammad Bashir was noting objections of the defence counsel but after the loud interruption of the NAB prosecutor, he left the courtroom in anger saying “enough is enough and he would not continue like this”. He said that he did not feel comfortable. The judge said, “bring back the witness on March 15,” before he went to his chamber. The court could not fully record the statement of the key witness due to the hullaballoo.

Later, the judge adjourned the hearing till March 15.

Earlier, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Safdar appeared before the court amid tight security.

At the start of the hearing, NAB prosecutor informed the court that the witness, Zia, was yet to reach the court as he was receiving the original JIT report from Supreme Court. One this, the court adjourned the hearing till 10 am and exempted Sharif and his daughter from today’s hearing following the request of their counsel. 

Later, Zia reached the court amid tight security along with three steel boxes, one briefcase and another box containing the final JIT report and evidence.

At the start of the proceedings, Zia was allowed to skim the documents before he said that this is a lengthy report and he could not memorize all. He first gave the background of the formation of JIT in the backdrop of April 20, 2017, decision of the Supreme Court.

When Zia began recording his statement and was just to produce statements of witnesses and former prime minister Sharif, his sons Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Tariq Shafi and others and an analysis of a statement as evidence, defense counsel Amjad Pervez raised objection that under the law parts of JIT report, which consists of analysis and statements of witnesses and accused, are not admissible as evidence in the trial.

Parvez said that under the law the witness cannot record the statement regarding the persons he has mentioned in his statement. He said that the only admissible evidence is what Zia himself collected. “Under what law can this investigation report be produced as evidence?” he said.

The NAB deputy prosecutor while objecting to the objection raised by the defense counsel said that Zia has appeared in the court as a witness and he prepared the investigation report as per the Supreme Court order and it can be produced as evidence.

“The whole report of JIT is the main material for us and it should be made part of the court trial,” he said adding that section 173 cannot be applied here as Zia appeared before the court as a witness and not as an investigation officer.  “This is a special case, the witness has compiled the report and it can be exhibited.”

Parvez said that each volume of the report consists of a section called summary of the investigation and it carries the JIT’s opinion. Holding guilty or not is the prerogative of the court and not the JIT, he said.

The defense counsel also gave the reference of some judgments and a section of Qanoon Shahadat.  The JIT head had sent Mutual Legal Assistance letters of help, and thus, he can only produce that in court, but what the witness or the accused said in front of the JIT during the investigation cannot be produced, he said.

Pervez said that if there is any Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) that Zia himself has written or he has seized any documents, he can submit to the court. While the summaries, statements of the accused or witnesses, opinion or conclusions cannot be submitted under the law, he said.

The JIT report is part of the corruption references as per directives of the Supreme Court. This report is just like the report of a commission, the 0rosecutor said and added that Zia is a witness and he has to record his testimony.

The court after hearing the arguments, the court took a 15-minute break to discuss whether or not the JIT report, witnesses statements and its analyses were admissible.

However, after the break, the court asked Zia to start recording his statement and the objection raised by the defence counsel will be decided later.

Zia told the court that the JIT also examined a sale deed of the Gulf Steel Mills which as per its contents was signed by Shehbaz Sharif in his capacity as an authorized representative of Tariq Shafi whereas on the sale deed, signatures were of Tariq Shafi. He said that the JIT confronted both Tariq Shafi and Shehbaz Sharif over this anomaly but they said that the signatures were not theirs.

When Zia referred to the affidavit of Tariq Shafi, Pervez objected and said that the witness is not the scribe to the document and he cannot prove its contents. Zia, however, said that the affidavit has the money trail from Gulf Steel Mills to London apartments as described by the accused persons.

When Pervez objected to Zia for referring the affidavit of Tariq Shafi, the NAB prosecutor said that the defence was not letting the testimony to be completed. At this, the AC judge deferred the hearing till March 15.