ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law were indicted today by an anti-graft court in a corruption case related to the Avenfield property in London.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had registered three cases of corruption and money laundering against 67- year-old Sharif, his family members and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the accountability court in Islamabad on September 8.
The cases were registered weeks after the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif as prime minister on July 28 in the Panama Papers scandal.
The accountability court indicted Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Mohammad Safdar in the London properties reference even though Sharif and lead defence counsel Khawaja Haris are both out of the country.
Sharif is in London with his ailing wife Kulsoom, who is suffering from throat cancer and has undergone three surgeries so far.
Maryam and Safdar were present in the court during today’s hearing.
All three accused pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to a court official.
Dar has already been indicted and his trial has begun.
Sharif and his sons – Hassan and Hussain – are likely to be indicted in the other two references later today.
At the start of the hearing by Judge Muhammad Bashir, the defence filed an application to postpone the indictment as Sharif was absent due to an illness of his wife.
The defence team also argued that head of Sharif’s legal team Harris was out of the country due to an emergency and in his absence, Sharif should not be indicted. But the court rejected the application after hearing the argument.
The second lawyer from Sharif’s legal team, Ayesha Hamid, filed an application seeking a delay in the indictment until the apex court decides on a petition filed by Sharif against the filing of multiple corruption references against him by NAB. The court rejected this application as well.
Sharif’s legal team then filed a third application in the accountability court and asked that all three cases should be changed into a single case.
The court has reserved its decision on the application.
During the proceedings, the judge thrice stopped hearing and went to his chamber to contemplate on the different applications.
Sharif’s family alleges that the cases are politically motivated.
Maryam, in an informal chat with reporters, said that it was for the first time that “Sicilian mafia” was appearing in the court. She was referring to a term used against Sharif and his family by the Supreme Court bench which disqualified him.
“It is for the first time that first decision was given (about the disqualification of Sharif) and now the trial is being held,” she said.
Sharif, his Pakistan PMLN and independent lawyers had objected to the use of the phrase by the Supreme Court, saying mafia groups are seldom held accountable or appear before courts with free will.
Maryam said that one day there would be accountability of the accountability process her family is going through.
“Injustice and atrocities cannot continue together,” she told reporters outside the court.
She said that her party is still united despite the differences of opinion.
Sharif was re-elected as the president of the PML-N on October 3 and immediately demanded that those who disqualified him should respect the people’s mandate.
Maryam said the government is an institution which should be respected. “Each institution should do its job.”
Heavy security arrangements were made to deal with any untoward situation. Unlike the previous hearing on October 13 when lawyers created chaos, the situation was totally different, peaceful and smooth.
Judge Bashir was set to indict Sharif and his family on October 13. However, after the violent clash between the PML-N lawyers and police, he had postponed the indictment until today.
During the hearing on October 9, the court had decided to separate the trial of Sharif’s sons – Hussain and Hassan – from Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law.
It had also ordered to start the process of declaring Sharif’s sons proclaimed offender for failing to appear before the court.
The anti-graft body NAB had frozen the bank accounts and seized properties of Sharif and his family members to put pressure on them to appear before the court.
A steel tycoon cum politician, Sharif had served as the Prime Minister for the first time from 1990 to 1993.
During his first tenure, Sharif developed serious differences with conservative president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who dissolved the National Assembly using his powers in April 1993. In July, Sharif resigned under pressure from the army.
His second term as Prime Minister from 1997 ended in 1999 when then powerful Army Chief Pervez Musharraf carried out a bloodless coup.
Sharif, who leads the country’s most powerful political family and the ruling PML-N party, successfully managed to swim through all the tsunamis since he assumed power for the third term in June 2013, but the Supreme Court ruling against him in the Panamagate case struck a heavy blow to his career.