ISLAMABAD - An accountability court yesterday indicted ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar in corruption references filed against them by NAB.

Islamabad Accountability Court judge Muhammad Bashir read out the charges against the accused in Avenfield (London) apartments, but all three of them pleaded not-guilty.

The corruption charges spiralling from the Panama Papers leak could ultimately see Nawaz Sharif jailed.

The indictment presents a fresh challenge to his beleaguered, ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party ahead of next year’s general elections, which the former premier is barred from contesting.

Maryam and Safdar were present in the court during Thursday hearing, while Nawaz Sharif was represented by pleader Advocate Zaffir Khan.

The former premier is currently in London with his wife Kalsoom as she undergoes cancer treatment, and there was no immediate confirmation if he would return to Pakistan to fight the charges.

The National Accountability Bureau, in pursuance of the July 28 judgment of the Supreme Court in Panama Papers case, had filed three references against the above said accused of the Sharif family as well as the two sons of Nawaz – Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz.

The court had separated the case of Hassan and Hussain for their perpetual non-appearance and ordered initiation of the process of declaring them absconders.

The graft cases have been framed in connection with family’s luxury London properties, the establishment of 16 companies, and Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment in Jeddah.

The former premier and his sons have been named in all three references, while Maryam and Capt (r) Safdar have only been named in the Avenfield properties reference.

The court also indicted Nawaz Sharif in the corruption reference relating to Azizia Steel and Hill Metal Establishment as he has been left the sole accused in this matter.

Due to shortage of time, court deferred until Friday (today) the indictment of former premier in the third reference that relates to establishment of a string of companies: Flagship Investment Ltd, Hartstone Properties Ltd, Que Holdings Ltd, Quint Eaton Place 2 Ltd, Quint Saloane Ltd, Quaint Ltd, Flagship Securities Ltd, Quint Gloucestor Place Ltd, Quint Paddington Ltd, Flagship Developments Ltd, Alanna Services Ltd, Lankin SA (BVI), Chadron Inc, Ansbacher Inc, Coomber Inc and Capital FZE (Dubai).

According to the charge-sheet in Avenfield properties case, the 2006 trust deed of the London flats is fake, as it is written in Calibri font which was not publicly available at that time; while the accused also submitted bogus documents in the Supreme Court.

As per the charge-sheet in the Azizia Steel and Hill Metal reference, Nawaz Sharif failed to justify sources of his assets. Also, Nawaz ran his business while holding public office. It said that he continued running his business despite holding office of prime minister and chief minister at different times. In 1991, Nawaz Sharif transferred his business in the name of his children and billions of rupees were transferred back to him in the form of gifts by his children.

Following the indictment, Maryam, Safdar and pleader of Nawaz Sharif read out the statement saying: “I do not plead guilty and refused to accept the charges. Charges are not only groundless, baseless and unfounded but also frivolous, and on top of that we are being denied our right to fair trial. The charges are being framed on a report [of JIT] that is incomplete and controversial. It will go down in history as a mockery of justice and travesty of justice. Moreover, the charges are being framed without awaiting the detailed order of the Supreme Court in the review petitions.”




Rejection of Sharifs’ pleas

Besides indictment, the AC judge also turned down three applications of Sharif family one after another.

The first application sought provision of Volume 10 and statements of the three prosecution witnesses to the defendants. It also sought deferment of the indictment until the same are provided.

NAB Deputy Prosecutor Muzaffar Abbas objected to the plea, saying that they were yet to decide whether the three persons, whose statements have been recorded by NAB, would be made accused or witnesses.

After the submission of the plea, Judge Muhammad Bashir stopped the proceedings for 15 minutes. Following the brief recess, the judge resumed the hearing.

Ayesha Hamid, a junior member of Nawaz Sharif’s legal team, then filed another plea with a request that the court should halt proceedings until the Supreme Court decides on Nawaz’s plea for NAB to consolidate all references.

NAB deputy prosecutor opposed this application too. After defence counsel and NAB prosecutor had concluded their arguments, the court reserved its verdict.

Later, the court rejected both the pleas.

Ayesah Hamid filed a third plea that also asked the court to stay trial proceedings until the Supreme Court decides on merger of the three references against the accused. However, the judge dismissed it too.

Later, another Sharif family lawyer (Jehangir Jadoon) filed an application requesting the court for conducting the trial at some spacious place.

The judge said that neither he could accept nor dismiss this application as it was for the federal government to decide on this matter.



Cases history

In late July the Supreme Court sacked Sharif following an investigation into corruption allegations against his family, making him the 15th premier in Pakistan’s 70-year history to be ousted before completing a full term.

The allegations against the prime minister stemmed from the Panama Papers leak last year, which sparked a media frenzy over the luxurious lifestyles and high-end London property portfolio owned by his family.

Following the indictment, Sharif’s arch-rival Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan celebrated the decision.

“In another phenomenal victory for the people of Pakistan, disqualified Nawaz Sharif and family indicted,” read a statement tweeted by the party.

“Accountability across the board imperative for development of Pakistan.”



Fight or flight

Political analyst Hasan Askari said the Sharifs were left with few immediate options except to fight back against the charges by marshalling their political power and delaying any court sentence.

“Their policy will be either to prolong the case by agitation, which is not likely, and the other is to change the law to avoid the conviction,” Askari told AFP.

He said the PML-N would “definitely lose seats” in the upcoming election, adding “this situation has definitely increased chances for Imran Khan”.

Sharif’s political fortunes would depend on his ability to convince voters that he is a victim of an unjust campaign by the powerful military to undermine him, Askari explained.

Sharif, who last appeared before the anti-corruption court on October 2, has faced similar challenges in the past.

In 1993 he was sacked from his first term as premier for corruption, while in 1999 he was sentenced to life in prison after his second term in office ended with a military putsch.

Following the coup he was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia, returning in 2007 before becoming prime minister for a third time in 2013.

Last month his wife Kalsoom Nawaz won his former parliamentary seat during a heated by-election in Lahore, in a poll seen as a key test of the ruling party’s popularity after Sharif’s sacking.

After his ouster, Sharif led supporters from the capital Islamabad to his hometown Lahore in a days-long procession that brought thousands into the streets.

During the rally Sharif repeatedly blasted the court’s move to oust him, saying the decision was an “insult” to Pakistanis.