ISLAMABAD - After scheduling the dates of hearing on appeals in Al-Azizia and Flagship references, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has also fixed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's appeal against the Avenfield reference along with Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar’s appeals against the same for hearing on September 1.

A division bench of IHC comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani would conduct hearing of these appeals after a passage of 22 months since the last hearing in this matter.

On the last hearing, a two-member bench of IHC comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb had suspended the 10-year, seven-year, and one-year jail sentences awarded to Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar, respectively given by an accountability court on July 6, 2018.

Then, the bench issued the 41-page detailed verdict of granting bail to Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain (Retd) Safdar and held that the conviction and sentences handed to the former prime minister and others in the Avenfield corruption reference “may not be ultimately sustainable”.

The judgment noted, “In the light of the above obvious and glaring defects and infirmities in the judgment we have formed a prima facie, tentative opinion that the convictions and sentences handed down to the petitioners may not be ultimately sustainable.”

Safdar had been convicted for lack of cooperation

“This view formed by us is tentative and solely confined to the defects and infirmities which are obvious from a plain reading of the judgment and tentative assessment of evidence permissible while considering a case for suspension of sentence in terms of section 426 of the Cr.P.C.,” said the verdict.

Justice Athar who had authored the verdict said in the judgment, “We have not recorded any conclusive finding and our assessment or any observation made herein shall not in any manner prejudice the case of either party when the appeals will be heard. The appeals could not be decided within the time prescribed under section 32 of the Ordinance of 1999 nor is their fixation in sight, particularly when two other trials are pending before the learned Accountability Court against petitioner No. 1.”

He added, “After forming a tentative opinion, as discussed above, it would lead to causing hardship to the petitioners if the relief by way of suspension of sentences is withheld.”

The verdict also mentioned that though the prosecution had told the accountability court that Maryam was her father’s dependent, the accountability court’s judgment did not “refer to any evidence which would connect Petitioner No. 2 (Maryam) to have aided, assisted or conspired with Petitioner No. 1 (Nawaz) at the time when Avenfield Apartments were said to have been acquired between 1993 and 1996”.

Regarding Safdar’s conviction, the bench noted that he had been convicted for lack of cooperation. However, the verdict declared that “the convictions of both these Petitioners [Maryam and Safdar] depend on whether the conviction handed down to Petitioner No. 1 would remain sustainable under the Ordinance of 1999”.

In this matter, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, and Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar filed the appeals in the IHC challenging the Accountability Courts verdict in the Avenfield property reference.

They were of the view that the impugned judgment, conviction and sentence are based on no evidence. Therefore, it was prayed to the court to set aside the impugned judgment, conviction and sentence dated awarded to the appellants by the accountability court Islamabad and they may be acquitted of all the charges framed against them in the reference.

Besides this matter, the court is also set to hear Nawaz’s appeal filed against his conviction in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment references on September 1 while NAB’s appeals - one seeking an increase in the former premier’s sentence in the Al-Aziza reference from seven years to 14 years, and the other against his acquittal in the Flagship Investment reference - have also been fixed for hearing on the same day.