Deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday testified before the Accountability Court that he never remained real or benamidar owner of the Avenfield properties and that he did not provide funds for the acquisition of these properties. At the start of the hearing, Accountability Court Judge Muhammad Bashir invited Sharif to rostrum to record his statement in the Avenfield properties reference. Sharif recorded answers to 55 questions in over three-and-a-half-hours.
Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain Muhammad Safdar (retd) were given a questionnaire to record final statements in their defense under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The former prime minister told the court that he was neither involved nor associated with the acquisition of the London properties through any real or beneficial title. He also said that he has never been a participant in or eyewitness to any of the transactions mentioned in the affidavit of Tariq Shafi, a close relative of the Sharif family.
He further said that he never accepted in the Supreme Court that he is real or beneficial owner of the Avenfield properties. Sharif said that prosecution did not produce any concrete evidence to link him to any money trail leading to the Avenfield apartments.
To a question about money trail, he said that this question is related his co-accused Hassan and Hussain Nawaz and he could not answer it. Both his sons are under-trial in the instant case, he said. Sharif said that he could not say anything about the documents his son Hussain Nawaz had submitted to the Supreme Court with regard to the London apartments. To a question about Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that probed the Panama Papers case, which was constituted by the apex court, Sharif that he had reservations over the composition of the JIT.
The JIT comprised six members including its head Additional Director Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Wajid Zia, Amer Aziz of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Bilal Rasool of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Irfan Naeem Mangi of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Brigadier (retd) Nauman Saeed of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Brigadier Kamran Khurshid of Military Intelligence (MI).
Sharif raised objections over all six members, saying that Bilal Rasool is the nephew of former Governor Punjab Mian Azhar. He further said that Azhar's son Hamad Azhar was photographed with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan on August 24, 2017. The picture was taken at PTI chief's residence in Bani Gala, he said, adding that Rasool's wife is an active supporter of PIT.
He also expressed reservations over the inclusion of Amer Aziz as member of JIT. Aziz was also part of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigation that probed the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case during General Pervez Musharraf's regime.
Aziz was part of NAB investigation team that filed a reference against him and family members in 2000, he said, adding though it was later quashed by Lahore High Court. Aziz was working as director banking in 2000 and in the same year he was appointed on deputation in NAB, he said.
Sharif said that a case is pending against Ifran Mangi - a JIT member from NAB - in the apex court.
About JIT head Zia, he said that Zia employed the services of his cousin Akhtar Raja's Quist Solicitors for the probe to produce fabricated evidence against him and his family. Nawaz also said that the inclusion of retired Brigadier Nauman Saeed of ISI and Brigadier Kamran Khurshid of MI was inappropriate and unnecessary with the obvious fallout on the JIT proceedings, given the civil-military tension that has plagued the country for the last 70 years.
He said that Nauman Saeed was part of inquiry committee of the Dawn Leaks, which further increased civil-military tension. The former premier further said that Supreme Court verdict affected his right to a fair trial. It was his right as per Article 10 of the Constitution (right to fair trial), he said.
To a question about the establishment of Gulf Steel Mills, Sharif said that he never remained involved in the establishment of Gulf Steel Mills. He added he does not directly know where from the funds for the setting up of Gulf Steel Mills came. He said that the statement of Tariq Shafi suggests that the Gulf Steel Mills was set up through a loan. He further testified that his knowledge about Gulf Steel Mills operation, sale, availing of loan and sale of shares was based on hearsay.
Sharif said that he is not the witness of affidavit of Tariq Shafi. Shafi was neither named as a suspect in these trials nor was his statement recorded as a witness in the case.
Nawaz said that he was arrested on October 12, 1999 and was later sent off to Saudi Arabia. He remained outside the country for a long time due to which he did not know about long-term loan of Hudaibiya Paper Mills.
Sharif said that he is aware that his father Mian Muhammad Sharif had made Hussain Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz directors of Hudaibiya Paper Mills. His father was looking after the matter of Hudaibiya Paper Mills, he said, adding he also knows that Hassan Nawaz was made a shareholder in Hudaibiya Paper Mills by his father.
To a question about his address to the nation and his speech on the floor of the National Assembly, Nawaz said that he never stated on those occasions that he was ever a real or beneficial owner of the Avenfield properties.
To a question about forensic expert Robert M Radley, he said that Radley was not a font expert and he had admitted in his statement that the Calibri font was available prior to its launch in 2007.
Sharif said that so-called final report of JIT comprising 10 volumes is also irrelevant for the purpose of instant trial. This report was for the specific purpose of assisting the apex court in disposing of the constitution petitions, he said, adding that the JIT report cannot be exhibited as evidence as it remains a report of an investigation agency and is not admissible as evidence. None of the volumes of the report stands as exhibited as evidence as only a selected portion was allowed to be exhibited in court, he said.
He said that the apex court through its July 28 judgment specifically directed NAB to prepare references based on the evidence, material collected and not by treating JIT report as an evidence or part of the reference.
He said that the statements recorded by the JIT following the directions of apex court are not relevant for the instant trial.
To a question that Shahbaz Sharif and Tariq Shafi did not accept to have signed the 25 percent shares sale agreement for Ahli Steel Mills in 1980, Sharif said that he cannot say anything in this regard, as neither such denial took place in his presence nor have Tariq Shafi or Shahbaz Sharif been produced as witnesses in the case.
He also said that the JIT carried out a one-sided investigation. They collected selected documents from departments, he said. Sharif said that none of the mutual legal assistance (MLA) requests sent by the JIT to the United Kingdom, British Virgin Islands (BVI), and the United Arab Emirate (UAE) have been produced in the court, and the court's decision should not be based on the MLAs. He said that he is 68-year-old and he has served as chief minister of Punjab and prime minister of Pakistan.
When he was asked that Mukhtar Ahmad, a sub-inspector of police station NAB, Lahore, was entrusted with five calls up notices in the present reference and one of the call notices was in the name of him (Sharif). "That notice was received by your security officer at Jati Umrah but you did not join the investigation." Sharif replied that NAB did not issue notice to him. There is no evidence that his security officer received notice at Jati Umrah, he said, adding that he came to know about the call up notice through electronic media and asked his counsel to submit a reply.
The court adjourned hearing till Tuesday (today) and Sharif will continue recording of his statement to answer remaining questions.