Avenfield reference: NAB failed to shift burden of proof on Nawaz, argues defence

Khawaja Haris, the lead counsel of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, stated that the prosecution team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had “miserably failed” to shift the burden of proof on the Sharif family in the Avenfield properties reference.
During a hearing of the reference in an accountability court, Haris, in his concluding arguments in the case, argued that scores of judgments of the Supreme Court (SC) had set certain preconditions for shifting of the onus of proof on the accused, which were not followed in the ongoing case.
Unlike the final arguments of NAB’s prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi, who had mainly read out the witness statement of Wajid Zia for about four days and did not mention any legal precedence related to the case, Haris submitted copies of Pakistani and Indian court judgements to establish that the bureau did not follow set criteria.
Referring to Section 14(C) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), Haris said that though the law says that the accused needs to prove their innocence, it can only be done once the prosecution establishes a case beyond any shadow of doubt.
Citing apex court verdicts in cases related to Khalid Aziz versus NAB and Hakim Ali Zardari versus NAB, the defence counsel argued that the superior court had laid down four prerequisites for shifting the burden of proof on the defendant.
He said that the apex court made it mandatory for the prosecution to prove that the accused was holding public office when the alleged property was purchased; that his pecuniary resources were not commensurate with the assets in his possession; the amount of declared wealth of the accused person when the assets were acquired; and finally, the prosecution must prove objectively that the assets were not proportionate to the financial means.
Haris claimed that despite the SC’s clear directions, the prosecution, in this case, had miserably failed to fulfill even one of the conditions.
“They did not even probe the financial resources of the accused persons and what was the means of his finances”, argued the counsel.
The prosecution never established that the property in question was ever in the possession of Sharif, Haris said, adding that, for the sake of argument, if it is presumed that the former premier is the owner of Avenfield apartments, it was not an offence unless the prosecution established its case as per the prerequisite set by the superior courts.
Haris maintained that not a single prosecution witness, including star witness Wajid Zia, had admitted to having evidence of the ownership of London properties by Nawaz Sharif.
The defence counsel termed the testimony of Zia a “pack of lies” and said: “I wonder [how] a man could lie to such an extent.”
He further argued that the prosecution, in order to link Sharif to the London flats, had tried to establish a connection through the settlement of Al-Tawfeek Investment.
Haris pointed out that neither Sharif nor his sons or any other witness had ever stated that the ex-premier was the owner of the Avenfield apartments.
Both the joint investigation team and NAB failed to obtain direct evidence against Sharif related to the ownership of said properties, he added.
The defence counsel will continue his closing arguments on Thursday (today).

IHC proceeding

In a separate case, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed NAB to proceed with its arguments on a petition filed by Sharif seeking simultaneous proceedings in the three outstanding references against the former PM.
Azam Nazir Tarrar and Amjad Pervez represented the Sharif family before a two-member IHC bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani.
Advocate Tarrar argued before the court that, being a citizen of Pakistan, Sharif had the right to fair trial and that recording separate testimony of witnesses common to the three cases was depriving him of his fundamental rights.
He said that the accountability court has set the procedure according to which it has decided to record statement of common witnesses simultaneously, adding that Wajid Zia was the star witness in all three references and his testimony should has been required to be recorded one after another but the accountability judge has deviated from his own order.
According to Tarrar, it would be a miscarriage of justice if the conditions for the fair trial were not met and that it would further stigmatise judicial history.
The IHC bench has adjourned the proceeding till Thursday (today).