The Islamabad High Court restored on Thursday Nawaz Sharif’s appeals challenging conviction in Al-Aziza and Avenfield references after the national anti-graft watchdog submitted “no objection”.
The court was announcing its reserved verdict on Nawaz’s plea seeking the same.
Earlier, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) informed the division bench, led by Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and comprising Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb, that it held no objections to the revival of Nawaz’s appeals.
During proceedings, when CJ Farooq inquired whether NAB wanted Nawaz’s arrest, to which the prosecutor replied in the negative.
At the outset of the hearing, NAB Prosecutor General Ghulam Qadir Shah said that a reference can only be taken back if it is yet pending verdict. “We have reviewed these appeals as well as the facts and legalities of both references,” he said.
Recounting case history, the NAB lawyer stated that the Avenfield reference was filed on the directives of the Supreme Court and a joint-investigation team was also constituted under the apex court’s order. A criminal appeal once admitted for hearing cannot be taken back, he maintained.
He denied media reports claiming that NAB has ‘surrendered’ while contending that if the court is to restore these appeals, the decision must be made on merits of the case.
Nawaz’s appeals were dismissed due to non-compliance with court orders, recalled the prosecutor, adding that perpetual arrest warrants were issued. The court had remarked that action be taken under the law when the proclaimed offender surrenders before it.
The national anti-graft watchdog has no objections to the restoration of these appeals, he said.
When it was his turn on the roster, Nawaz’s counsel Advocate Amjad Parvez argued that when the sentence was suspended, the court had examined the role of all parties. He referred to Maryam Nawaz’s acquittal, recalling that the court had observed then that NAB had changed its prosecutor thrice and had failed to establish the PML-N chief’s role.
He cited past precedents and maintained that he was not aware of a case in the past 30 years where appeals were not restored after the convict surrendered before the court.
At one point during the hearing, Justice Aurangzeb wondered whether NAB has challenged Maryam’s acquittal as yet while observing that the “girl” was not relevant to this case.
At the last hearing, held earlier this week, the court issued notices to the NAB on Nawaz’s plea and extended his bail period as he surrendered before the bench against surety bonds worth Rs1 million.
Nawaz was convicted in 2018 by an accountability court in the two corruption references. He had later left for London in 2019 on medical grounds and returned to the country on October 21 after nearly four years in self-imposed exile.
Shortly after his appearance before the IHC, the Punjab government suspended the sentence handed to him in the Al-Aziza reference under Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) – the legal provision pertaining to commutations, suspensions and remissions of sentences.
Earlier that same day, the PML-N chief secured bail from an accountability court in Islamabad in the Toshakhana case against him.
Nawaz was convicted in the Avenfield case in July 2018 and the Al-Azizia case in December of the same year.
In 2019, he was granted bail by the IHC, while his appeals against his conviction were pending. While serving a seven-year jail term after his conviction in the Al-Azizia case, Nawaz was granted rare permission in October 2019 to seek medical treatment abroad.
However, he chose not to return to the country, leading both the IHC and the accountability court to declare him a proclaimed offender.
On June 24, 2021, an IHC bench led by Justice Farooq rejected Nawaz’s appeals due to his failure to appear in court for several hearings.
In its nine-page judgment of June 24, 2021, the IHC stated that as Nawaz was a “fugitive from the law”, he had lost his right of audience before the court.
The court had no choice but to dismiss his appeal, the order said.
On October 19, 2023, both the IHC and the accountability court granted the former prime minister protective bail until October 24, 2023.
The applications for the revival of appeals against his conviction were submitted by Advocate Amjad Parvaiz.
In the applications, the lawyer had requested the court to reinstate the appeals and issue an order after hearing the arguments.
The petitioner’s counsel argued that the IHC had already annulled the sentences of his co-accused, Maryam Nawaz and her husband, Captain (retd) Safdar, in the Avenfield case, but rejected his appeal due to non-attendance in court hearings.
The application contended that health issues prevented Nawaz from pursuing his appeals and that he did not misuse the bail granted to him. It stated that while Nawaz was not completely healthy, he was returning to the country due to the economic challenges facing Pakistan.