ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) ruled on Thursday it would hear evidence on Dec. 12 in an appeal by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif against his conviction in the Al-Azizia reference, rejecting a request by the national anti-graft body to enhance his sentence and remand the case before an accountability court.
The Al-Azizia Steel Mills case became a high-profile corruption case that centered on allegations of financial irregularities and money laundering linked to the establishment of the facility in Saudi Arabia by Sharif and his family.
A local accountability court in the federal capital sentenced him to seven years in December 2018 and imposed a fine of £2.5 million in the case. The verdict also disqualified the ex-premier from holding any public office for 10 years and ordered him to forfeit all his properties.
“We have two options, the first is that we call for evidence and decide the appeal on merit, and the second is that we remand the reference back to the accountability court [for fresh hearing],” IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq said, who was heading a division bench hearing Sharif’s appeal against the conviction.
Deciding a case on merit means the court will consider the evidence in the case, including the charges and defense as opposed to matters of jurisdiction or procedure.
Following the Al-Azizia verdict, Sharif was arrested from the court premises and remained in prison for about seven months before he left for London in November 2019 for medical treatment after securing bail from a Pakistani court.
Sharif returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile after nearly four years in October and filed appeals against his convictions in two separate corruption references, Al-Azizia and Avenfield. The IHC acquitted the former prime minister in the Avenfield reference last month.
Pakistan’s anti-graft body, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had requested the court to increase Sharif’s sentence in the Al-Azizia reference and remand the case back to an accountability court.
Sharif’s counsel and ex-federal law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar urged the court to decide the matter on merit as “a lot of excesses have already been committed against Nawaz Sharif.”
Amjad Pervaiz, another legal counsel of the former prime minister, informed the court that three references were filed against his client on the Supreme Court’s directions in the Panama Papers case.
He said Sharif was acquitted in the Flagship reference and convicted in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia cases.
“A single reference should have been filed [against Sharif] as all three references accused him of having assets beyond means,” Pervaiz told the court.
Pervaiz said Al-Azizia Steel Company Private Limited was registered in Saudi Arabia in 2001 while the Hill Metal Establishment was set up in Jeddah in 2005-2006 by Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz, after he sold the Al-Azizia mill.
“Nawaz Sharif had nothing to do with bank accounts or operations of these companies,” Pervaiz said, highlighting that Sharif had also not held any public office from October 1999 to May 2013.
He said the NAB had accused Sharif of owning these companies without any solid evidence at its disposal.
At one point during the hearing, NAB’s prosecutor urged the court to first look into petitions regarding a video scandal of the late accountability court judge Arshad Malik.
Malik had handed Sharif the seven-year sentence in the Al-Azizia case but Sharif’s counsel contended that they did not want to discuss the issue as Malik had passed away.
Sharif’s party had released a video of the late judge in which he could be heard saying he was blackmailed to issue a verdict against the former prime minister.
After hearing both parties to the case, the court ruled it would hear the case on merit and adjourned proceedings till Tuesday.