Accountability court likely to begin trial in Sharif family’s corruption references

Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired captain Muhammad Safdar on Wednesday have reached the Accountability Court to stand trial in three corruption references filed against the Sharif family by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The court is set to formally begin trial proceedings against the three accused even though the Islamabad High Court (IHC) admitted Sharif’s petition challenging the accountability court’s refusal to club three separate references against him and fixed Nov 20 as the date for the next hearing.

This is the second time the former PM moved the IHC to club the three references. Earlier, the high court had accepted a petition and ordered on Nov 3 that the matter should be decided by the trial court. However, Accountability Judge Bashir had rejected the plea on Nov 8.

Sharif’s counsel sought a joint trial, arguing that the main allegation in all three corruption references was the same — that the assets under the names of Hussain and Hassan Nawaz were actually owned by Nawaz Sharif.

He pleaded that the three references had been supplemented by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, and six of the nine witnesses were common in references 18 and 19, while two out of 10 witnesses were common in all three corruption references.

The petition said the accountability court’s order was based on a gross misreading of the “facts” on which it was purportedly based.

Earlier, the accountability court judge had held that the prosecution or the accused could not insist on conducting a joint trial of offences, even if they were similar. The accused could not justify the clubbing of all three references for a joint trial in the circumstances of the cases, the written order had said.

The accountability judge had said the request for a single trial had been made in view of the convenience of the accused, adding that if joint charges were framed, the facts of each case could get mixed up. Moreover, the offences alleged in the three corruption references were not of the same kind.

NAB references
A five-member bench of the Supreme Court on July 28 had directed NAB to file references against Nawaz and his children in six weeks in the accountability court and directed the trial court to decide the references within six months.

The Supreme Court also assigned Justice Ijazul Ahsan a supervisory role to monitor the progress of the accountability court proceedings.

NAB had filed three references on Sept 8 against Sharif and his family, and another reference against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. The three references against the Sharif family are related to the Flagship Investment Ltd, the Avenfield (London) properties and Jeddah-based Al-Azizia Company and Hill Metal Establishment.

The former premier and his sons, Hassan and Hussain, have been named in all three NAB references, while Maryam and husband Safdar have been named only in the Avenfield reference. Agencies