ISLAMABAD  -   The Islamabad High Court yesterday accepted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s application for early hearing of his appeal against his conviction in Al-Azizia corruption reference.

A dual bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Moshin Akhtar Kayani conducted hearing of the application moved by former prime minister through his counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmad advocate and directed the IHC registrar office to fix this matter within 10 days.

The former premier had moved the application under section 561-A of Criminal Procedure Code for fixation of his appeal at an early date.

He stated in the petition that subsequent to filing of his appeal, the appellant had also filed a writ petition No 32/ 2019 seeking suspension of his sentence pending final disposal of the said appeal. Sharif added that however, the same could not be entertained since the said appeal was yet to be fixed for preliminary hearing, accordingly, the aforementioned petition was adjourned and was ordered to be heard along with the said appeal. Further, he said that the office was directed to relist the aforesaid petition on the date when the said appeal is fixed.

Therefore, he requested the court to fix a date for early hearing of his appeal against his conviction and the sentence awarded to him by the Accountability Court (AC) Islamabad on December 24, 2018 in the said reference.

Referring the legal lacunas in the judgment of AC, Sharif requested the court in his appeal to acquit him of all the charges framed against him in National Accountability Bureau (NAB) reference No 19 of 2017.

The petitioner, who approached the IHC through his counsel Khawaja Haris, also sought nullification of the seven-year imprisonment sentence and Rs1.5 billion fine awarded by AC Judge Arshad Malik on December 24 in the corruption reference filed by the NAB.

In his petition, Nawaz maintained that the decision was based on assumptions and false interpretation of law while the evidence were misperceived and the accountability court announced the verdict without hearing objections by the accused.

The Al-Azizia verdict said that the accused No 1 (Nawaz Sharif) was held guilty for the offence of corruption and corrupt practices and accordingly, was convicted under section 10 of the NAO 1999 ‘read with schedule thereto’.

“And consequent upon his conviction, having regard to the facts and the circumstances of the case, the convict is hereby sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term of seven years along with a fine of Rs1.2 billion and $25 million,” said the order.

According to the verdict, Sharif was disqualified to hold any public office for a period of 10 years. Likewise, he will not be allowed to apply for or be granted or allowed any financial facilities in the form of loan or advances or other financial accommodation by any bank or financial institution owned or controlled by the government for a period of 10 years from the date.

Sharif’s counsel stated in the appeal, “The findings given by the learned trial court judge in the instant case are not only against the evidence brought on the record of the case but also in derogation of the law laid down by the august Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

Kh Haris contended, “We are not persuaded to agree with learned deputy prosecutor general NAB that conviction could have awarded in view of the provision as contained in section 14 of NAB Ordinance, 1999 for the simple reason that “the section cannot be used to undermine the well established rule of law that save in every exceptional class of cases, the burden to prove the guilt of the accused is on the prosecution and never shifts. The section does not affect the onus of providing the guilt of an accused which always rests on the prosecution and it does not cast any burden on an accused person to prove that no crime was committed, by proving facts specially within his knowledge, nor does it warrant the conclusion that if anything is unexplained which the court thinks the accused could explain, he ought therefore, to be guilty.”

He argued that it would be misconception of law that every accused who faced trial in the accountability court or against whom a reference has been sent, the “presumption as envisaged in section 14 of the NAB Ordinance, 1999” would start running against him. “Where the prosecution has failed to discharge the onus of ‘proof’ by adducing cogent, concrete and forthright evidence the presumption of guilt would not arise against him and thus the question of conviction would have not arisen …”

“Therefore,” he maintained, “The said judgment, conviction and sentence are even otherwise illegal, without jurisdiction, unwarranted by law, based on inadmissible evidence and unproven documents and on misconception and misinterpretation of law and liable to be set aside as such.