ISLAMABAD - Islamabad High Court Monday sought reply from National Accountability Bureau in former premier Mian Nawaz Sharif’s petition against his conviction in Al-Azizia corruption reference.

A dual bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Moshin Akhtar Kayani conducted hearing of former prime minister’s appeal against his conviction and the sentence awarded to him by the Accountability Court (AC) Islamabad on December 24, 2018 in the said reference and directed NAB to submit record of the case within three weeks.

During the hearing, Khawaja Haris adopted before the court that NAB prepared whole reference on the basis of Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report while the team has failed to present the witnesses named in the report.

He added that Nawaz Sharif was not real owner of the assets and despite this fact, the court awarded sentence to his client. Subsequently, the court issued notices to NAB and deferred the hearing for three weeks.

Sharif moved the application through his counsel Khawaja Haris and cited the state through chairman NAB, the NAB through its chairman, judge accountability court –II Islamabad and superintendent central jail Kot Lakhpat Lahore as respondents.

The petitioner stated in the appeal 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 dollar.

While 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 NAB reference No 19 of 2017.

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

The Al-Azizia verdict said that Nawaz Sharif was held guilty for the offence of corruption and corrupt practices and accordingly, is 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 is disqualified to hold any public office for a period of ten 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 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.”

Khawaja 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 that 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.

Similarly, the same bench also heard the two appeals filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the acquittal of Nawaz Sharif in the Flagship Investment reference and for enhancement of his sentence from seven years to 14 years in the Al-Azizia reference and issued notices to Nawaz Sharif in this regard.

The anti-graft body filed the appeal through its additional deputy prosecutor general Sardar Muzaffar Ahmed Khan under section 32 of the NAB Ordinance, 1999 along with all the enabling and applicable provisions of law for setting the judgment passed by the learned Accountability Court –II Islamabad against Nawaz Sharif in the judgment dated December 24, 2018.

In its appeal, NAB prayed to the court to declare accountability court’s Flagship reference verdict as null and void. “The institution provided concrete evidence against Nawaz Sharif,” NAB stated, adding that it is illegal to acquit former PM on the mere basis of the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, it was prayed to the court that the impugned judgment passed by AC-II Islamabad may be set aside and Nawaz Sharif may be convicted and sentenced in accordance with law.