FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 23

After the Avenfield verdict

The conviction of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband Muhammad Safdar has invoked contrasting response from their critics and sympathisers. For critics, the punishment should have been the maximum 14-year jail and a fine double the value of the Avenfield properties, as prescribed under the National Accountability Ordinance. However, his supporters believe no evidence of corruption or money laundering was found in the case and the punishment is unjustified.

 

Both sides are right, to some extent. The case started after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz admitted to the ownership of the flats after the onset of the Panama leaks. If he had not accepted the ownership, the Supreme Court of Pakistan would not have admitted it for regular hearing. Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years because he could not prove the flats had been purchased legitimately and no wrongdoing was involved in it. However, NAB could not establish that he was the owner of the flats because UK authorities refused to cooperate with it. After the admission of ownership of the flats, it was the responsibility of the Sharif family to prove that they had inherited them from Mian Muhammad Sharif through Qatar investment, as was claimed by the family during the proceedings of the Panama case in the Supreme Court. Under the National Accountability Ordinance, the Sharif family will have to prove its innocence after the case reaches High Courts and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. It is highly likely the maximum sentence and fine are imposed on them by superior courts, because under the law, they have to prove their innocence and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) does not have to prove them guilty.

 

The case concluded almost 10 months of trial in an accountability court, which sentenced Nawaz Sharif to 10-year rigorous imprisonment, his daughter Maryam Nawaz to 7-year rigorous imprisonment and son-in-law Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar, to one-year rigorous imprisonment. They were also disqualified to contest elections or hold public office for a period of 10 years. The court observed, a “heavy burden was shifted” to the former premier as all four ingredients were established, which included Nawaz Sharif holding public offices, nature and extent of his financial resources or properties, his sources of income known after thorough investigation and his resources or properties being disproportionate to his known sources of income.

 

The court noted that Nawaz Sharif was a public office holder, remained Punjab chief minister, finance minister, prime minister and member of the National Assembly, and the London properties had been purchased through offshore companies Nielson and Nescoll during years 1993, 1995 and 1996. “The prosecution in the circumstances of the case and evidence produced have established that the Avenfield flats were not purchased from sources of income, shown by the accused in their cash management accounts.” Nawaz Sharif was fined of 8 million pounds (Rs1.92 billion).

 

The court reasoned that generally, children remain dependent on their parents during their tender ages, therefore, Nawaz Sharif cannot say that he had not provided money to them to purchase the apartments. “Sharif is also responsible to account for properties in the name of his sons and daughter during their tender ages and it was also in evidence that Sharif and his father Mian Muhammad Sharif used to live in the apartments. The entire family, daughter, sons and father are one and the same monolith. Nawaz Sharif cannot disassociate himself by oral assertions that he has no connection. Hussain, Maryam and Hassan – in year 1993, were about 20, 18 and 16, respectively, when the London properties were purchased – and they were studying. They were dependent financially and could not purchase the Avenfield apartments without the financial assistance of anyone else/father. The story of investment with the Qatari royal family is also not convincing. Sharif and his children have never stated that the bearer shares of two companies – Nielson and Nescoll – were procured as a result of investment with Qatari royals in their interviews and speeches,” the court observed.

 

Maryam Nawaz was given seven years for abetment after she was found “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” and one year for non-cooperation. The trust deeds produced by her were also found bogus. Nawaz’s son-in-law Safdar was sentenced to one year for not cooperating with NAB, and aiding and abeting Nawaz and Maryam.

 

According to the Mail Online, “The family are also accused of using dirty money to buy at least 21 UK properties on top of the Avenfield flats, most at equally grand Central London locations, in Mayfair, Chelsea and Belgravia. The total value of the properties is estimated at least £32 million. The family has made huge profits from other sites which have not figured in court – such as the swankiest address of all, at One Hyde Park Place, which Nawaz Sharif’s son Hassan sold for £43 million. Untangling the web of the Sharifs’ British real estate portfolio is not easy. The properties are registered via a bewildering network of companies, trusts and bank accounts.”

 

Following the sentencing of Nawaz Sharif, Transparency International has urged UK authorities to investigate the assets and no longer provide a safe haven for Sharif and his family. “If a UK investigation concludes that the properties have been bought with corrupt money, then the authorities should move to seize the assets. Transparency International also calls on UK law enforcement to investigate any further property in the UK owned by the Sharif family,” Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, said in a statement.

 

It appears the family will have to face more cases after the conviction in the Avenfield case. It still faces references concerning Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship investments in the accountability court. Twenty-one more properties, owned by the family in the UK, as reported by the British media, will no longer remain hidden. Their evidence will silence both critics and supporters of the Sharif family.

 

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