ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Wednesday deferred hearing in former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s appeal in the Al-Azizia corruption reference after his counsel sought the attested copy of a press release and an affidavit of judge Arshad Malik submitted in the IHC.

A two-member bench of IHC comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani conducted hearing of the petition and directed to provide verified copies of Malik’s press release and his affidavit submitted in his alleged video scam.

The bench also heard another plea filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to extend Sharif’s sentence from seven to 14 years simultaneously.

The former prime minister, who is currently imprisoned in Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore, was handed out a seven-year prison and fined Rs 1.5 billion in the Al-Azizia corruption reference filed by the NAB following the Supreme Court’s verdict on Panama Leaks.

In this matter, the court started hearing after a hiatus of three months while it is the first since the emergence of a controversial video of Judge Arshad Malik that raised questions about the impartiality of the verdict.

Former PM’s counsel provided required press release and affidavit of judge Arshad

During the proceedings, Nawaz’s counsel Khawaja Haris requested the court for a verified copy of a press release and an affidavit submitted in the IHC by Judge Malik after a controversial video of the judge surfaced.

At this, the bench said that both the items had been included in the file that was provided to Haris.

To a question about completing his arguments in the appeal, Haris said that he would conclude his arguments in three months.

Then, the court directed that the copies of Malik’s press release and affidavit be provided to Haris as well as NAB’s counsel.

Later, the bench adjourned hearing in this matter till October 7 for further proceedings.

A large number of PML-N activists were also present outside the court. PML-N leaders Pervez Rashid, Raja Zafarul Haq, Ayaz Sadiq and Marriyum Aurangzeb were also present in the court.

The Accountability Court (AC) Islamabad convicted the former prime minister in Al-Azizia/Hill Metals Establishment corruption references filed by National Accountability Bureau and awarded him rigorous imprisonment for a term of seven years on December 24, 2018 in the said reference.

It was the first hearing of Sharif’s appeal after the controversy emerged regarding the leaked video of judge Arshad Malik in July. The video, purportedly showing judge Arshad Malik ‘confessing’ that he had convicted Nawaz Sharif under duress, was made public by Maryam Nawaz, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, at a press conference.

Later, judge Arshad admitted that a video existed in which he was shown in a compromising position, but alleged that PML-N supporters Nasir Butt, Nasir Janjua, Mahar Ghulam Jilani and Khurram Yousaf had purchased this video from accused Mian Tariq Mehmood and were pressuring him into acquitting Nawaz Sharif.

The affidavit alleged that Nasir Butt told the judge that Nasir Janjua would make the video public soon. A couple of days later, Mian Tariq Mehmood visited the judge’s house and showed him the video.

Although accused Tariq Mahmood was sent to jail on judicial remand, the three suspects — Nasir Janjua, Maher Ghulam Jilani and Khurram Yousaf were released by a local court after FIA submitted their discharge report following its interrogation in this matter.

Sharif had moved the appeal stating that he was convicted under section 10 of NAO, 1999 read with schedule thereto and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term of seven years along with a fine of Rs 1.5 billion and US 25 million dollars.

Sharif contended that he was convicted and sentenced on the basis of inadmissible evidence, unproven documents and statements of proxy witnesses which is not permissible in the eye of law.

The petitioner maintained that it is apparent on the face of the record that prima facie, the conviction and sentence recorded against the petitioner is illegal and unwarranted by law and consequently his incarceration in jail pursuant to his impugned conviction is tantamount to his being held in custody without lawful authority.

While referring to 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.