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Punjab govt approves suspension of Nawaz Sharif’s sentence in Al-Azizia reference

LAHORE: The sentence of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo, Nawaz Sharif, in the Al-Azizia reference has been suspended by the interim Punjab cabinet, it emerged on Tuesday.

The decision by the provincial cabinet might raise concerns among other political parties in the country.

Caretaker Information Minister Aamir Mir confirmed the Punjab cabinet’s move, saying the decision was taken while exercising its constitutional powers under Section 401 of the Criminal Procedural Code (CPC), which also authorises it to pardon any offender.

The approval was given through a circulation summary.

“The final decision of the case will be taken by the court itself,” he added.

The development comes on the day when Nawaz is scheduled to attend multiple hearings at an accountability court at the Federal Judicial Complex (FJC) and the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

Nawaz Sharif’s sentence was also suspended under the same law on medical grounds before he left for London in 2019 by the then PTI government.

The PML-N supremo had requested for his sentence to be suspended by the Punjab cabinet, Mir said.

It should be noted that Nawaz was sentenced by an accountability court in both the Avenfield and Al-Azizia Steel Mills references.

The sentence was then challenged in the high court, which had suspended the accountability court’s sentence. Appeal proceedings — for the petition challenging the sentence — were underway when the politician travelled to London, United Kingdom, for medical treatment and did not return to pursue the case.

The PML-N supremo — after he moved to Lahore High Court (LHC) instead of the IHC — was allowed to go abroad for four weeks after his brother and party president Shehbaz Sharif submitted an undertaking in the court assuring Nawaz’s return once his health improves.

The IHC — in Nawaz’s absence — threw out the appeals on account of non-prosecution. The court, while declaring him a proclaimed offender, noted that the appeals were rejected on technical grounds and not on the merits of the arguments.

The applicant can once again file an appeal against the sentence upon his return, the court had mentioned in its verdict.

CM Punjab censures Buzdar for rejecting Nawaz’s request

Commenting on the suspension of Nawaz’s sentence by the interim cabinet, Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi said an application was submitted to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Usman Buzdar-led government back in the day. However, the Buzdar administration rejected it.

The interim chief minister, while speaking with journalists at the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore, said his government has only referred Nawaz to the court.

“Now the court has to decide whether he will be bailed or not,” he said, informing journalists about PTI government’s decision to reject the PML-N supremo’s request in the past.

The caretaker chief minister said the government has sent the request to the court, given similar instances have taken place under Section 401 before as well.

Proceedings in Toshkhana case

Upon arriving at the accountability court, Nawaz was called to the rostrum to mark his attendance, after which the judge allowed him to leave if he wished to go.

However, the PML-N supremo’s counsel was present in the courtroom for further proceedings, while Nawaz left for the IHC.

The accountability court judge said the hearing is to be conducted today and asked regarding the pleader.

“Rana Muhammad Irfan is the pleader who is present in the court,” the lawyer said, assuring the court that Nawaz will appear in the court when ordered.

The judge then adjourned the hearing of the Toshakhana reference till November 20, calling for arguments on the appeal pertaining to property confiscation. He also suspended the PML-N supremo’s warrant in the said case after NAB prosecutor’s request.

“Copies will be distributed at the next hearing,” the court stated while issuing a notice to NAB on the property confiscation request.

Earlier today, Nawaz was scheduled to appear for a hearing at the accountability court in the Federal Judicial Complex for hearing of the Toshkhana reference.

Ahead of his arrival before the accountability court Judge Muhammad Bashir in Islamabad today, the bomb disposal squad completely emptied the courtroom and searched it for security purposes.

A heavy contingent of the Islamabad Police has also been deployed both inside and outside the Federal Judicial Complex in the capital where the hearing of the Toshakhana case against him is scheduled to take place today. Only relevant lawyers and journalists will be allowed to enter the accountability court.

The court has, meanwhile, suspended the PML-N supremo’s permanent warrant in the case to date. According to the court’s decision, if Nawaz does not appear before the judge today, the aforementioned warrant against him will be restored.

Pakistan People’s Party Co-chairman Asif Zardari and Senator Yusuf Raza Gilani are also co-accused in the said case.

Nawaz is being represented by his counsel Qazi Misbah in the case, who has filed three different applications in the accountability court on his behalf which include the restoration of the PML-N supremo’s annexed property in the case; appointment of Nawaz’s pleader in the case; and an application to submit the politician’s bail bonds.

Meanwhile, Zardari’s lawyer and senior PPP leader Farooq H Naek appeared in the court on behalf of his client to seek an exemption from attending the hearing.

Nawaz, on the other hand, was granted protective bail in two graft cases while his arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case was suspended by an accountability court on Thursday, two days before his return to Pakistan on October 21.

PML-N supremo to surrender before IHC

On the other hand, the PML-N supremo is also scheduled to appear before the Islamabad High Court and surrender in a case filed against the NAB reference.

The high court has already granted protective bail to the senior politician to date, ordering to stop his arrest in the case. The anti-graft body had not objected to Nawaz getting the security bond.

A hearing, conducted by IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mian Gul Hasan Aurangzeb, will be held today on the appeals against the PML-N supremo’s conviction in the aforementioned reference as well as the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references.

The hearing will begin after 2:30 pm today. The NAB reference will be heard by the regular bench, while the appeals against conviction in Avenfield and Al-Azizia references will be overseen by a special divisional bench.

Nawaz, on Monday, moved the IHC seeking restoration of appeals against the accountability courts’ verdicts in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia cases.

His counsel filed the petitions, requesting the court to hear the appeals on merit as earlier they were discarded for non-compliance when the PML-N supremo did not return from London after he was granted permission by the court in November 2019 to go abroad for medical treatment.

In the Avenfield petition, the PML-N chief maintained that he was sentenced in absentia on July 6, 2018 in Avenfield reference as he could not attend a court hearing in view of his wife’s ailment who was undergoing treatment and on the ventilator at a hospital in London.

Nawaz said his appeals against the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references were not dismissed on merit rather they were discarded for non-compliance.

In the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference, the PML-N stalwart was sentenced to seven years in jail on Dec 24, 2018 and then taken to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail from where he was shifted to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail next day.