The Supreme Court of Pakistan has extended a deadline of six months to an accountability court to decide corruption, money laundering and forgery cases against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. The extension of two months is big relief for the family but few of the cases can be decided in weeks and the sentence in each case will be 14-year in jail, confiscation of property and disqualification for holding a public office for 10 years.
The Sharifs had started with four cases against them but now they are facing seven references. An overburdened accountability court meant the cases could be delayed from the outset. The Sharifs also moved every court on any point to gain the maximum possible time. They believe it is a great victory for them. They can use the time to bash the establishment and the judiciary. Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz said the extension in the deadline had proved nothing came out from six-month long investigations. In a series of tweets, she claimed if there had been a hint of proof against them, the court would not have taken more than two days to punish them.
In its July 28, 2017, verdict in the Panama case, the Supreme Court had given the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) six months to complete its proceedings on the corruption references against the Sharif family. Initially, NAB had filed four references against them and former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. Three of the references were against Nawaz Sharif, his children Hassan, Hussain and Maryam and his son-in-law Captain Safdar over 16 offshore companies, Azizia Steel Mills, Hill Metal Establishment and Avenfield flats in London. Three supplementary references have also been filed against them and three more will be filed soon. NAB has formally approved supplementary references in Azizia Steel Mills, Hill Metals, Flagship Investment and Avenfield properties. On a complaint of the State Bank of Pakistan, it authorised another inquiry against Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Kulsoom Nawaz, Hamza Shahbaz and Maryam Nawaz in the Chaudhry Sugar Mill case of assets beyond known sources.
Most of NAB witnesses have already testified against the Sharifs. The most important of them was British forensic expert Robert Radley, who testified through video link from London. He testified that the Sharif family had presented a fabricated trust deed of Avenfield properties in the court and the Calibri font could not have been used at the time of the deed as it was not commercially available before January 31, 2007. The forensic expert said he had not gone through the content of each of the two pages of the documents and used the method of Video Spectral Comparator (VSC) to determine if the documents were identical or not. He explained that VSC was a multipurpose machine that could conduct analysis of ink including infrared luminescence and infrared reflectance of inks. On the basis of the analysis, he said he had found some discrepancies in the trust deed. Presenting a fabricated document in the court alone is punishable by seven years in jail. The forged trust deed means Nawaz Sharif is the beneficiary owner of the Avenfield properties.
The Sharif family could also face investigations in the UK after the government has introduced new rules, giving unprecedented powers to law enforcement agencies to crack down on properties and assets amassed through “dirty money”. Under the new rules, which are designed to stop corrupt people from using Britain as a safe haven, individuals can be fined and jailed if they make misleading statements. The order, which came into force recently, allows UK authorities to freeze and recover property of more than 50,000 pounds if individuals cannot explain why they own assets worth more than their income and show they have acquired them legally. The British media is looking at the Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), which came into force on February 1, as a weapon to fight corruption by Russian oligarchs having assets in the UK, the new law can have serious implications for the Sharif family and other Pakistanis, who own properties there. A list of potential cases, drawn up by Transparency International, includes four Avenfield House flats.
The London-based Transparency International has identified properties worth 4.4 billion pounds in Britain that should be considered as possible candidates for the new legislation. It has already compiled a list of five cases which it thinks could be investigated without delay, including Avenfield House flats of Nawaz Sharif. Describing Nawaz Sharif as the suspected owner of the four Avenfield House flats (16, 16A, 17 and 17A) worth at least eight million pounds, TI noted that the Land Registry documents showed that the four properties were owned by two companies registered in the BVI: Nescoll Limited and Nielsen Limited. Action against the Sharif family and other Pakistanis, who own properties in the UK, could start any time and it would also have serious consequences for them in Pakistan.
Fears of delay were raised when the four cases were filed in the Islamabad Accountability Court against the family six months ago. There were already over 60 cases pending before it. Under the NAB law, accountability courts have to decide a case in one month and in two months, if a case is delayed for some reasons. Legal experts had expressed their annoyance when the Supreme Court ordered NAB and the accountability court to complete the cases in six months, because they thought the court should have given one or two months to decide the cases. The Sharifs also delayed the proceedings on technical grounds and NAB had to file supplementary references. As a result, the cases could not be decided on time. However, solid evidence has been found against the Sharif family and even the UK forensic expert’s testimony is enough to punish them with long sentences.