A Pakistani anti-graft court today formally began trial of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members in corruption cases linked to the Panama Papers scandal as two prosecution witnesses recorded their statements against them.
As the trial began, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecution presented its first two witnesses in the court - Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) Joint Registrar Sidra Mansoor and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Inland Revenue Department representative Jahangir Ahmad.
Mansoor recorded her statement in the Avenfield flats case, telling the court that she had appeared before the investigation officer in Lahore on August 18, and provided NAB documents containing the Sharif family's financial records, the Dawn reported.
"The records that NAB has presented in court hold my signatures and thumb impressions," Mansoor said, adding that among other things the records also contained audit reports of the Sharif family's various businesses.
In her statement, Mansoor said the Hudaibiya Paper Mills audit reports consistently showed Rs 49,46,000 in the company's accounts for five years between 2000 to 2005.
When Sharif's lawyer, Khawaja Haris, was given the floor to cross-question the first witness, he observed that the audit reports submitted by the SECP to NAB were photocopies and did not have the company's stamp on them.
Defending the authenticity of the documents, Mansoor said that the photocopies were provided to the SECP by the Sharifs' company as per the law.
FBRs Jahangir Ahmad also recorded his witness statement and said that all tax records that NAB had provided to the court were given to the accountability body by his office.
Ahmad has been called to appear in court again on November 22 for cross-questioning in the next hearing.
While the accountability court accepted Sharif's application for exemption from court hearings till November 27, it only conditionally allowed his daughter Maryam one month's exemption from court.
Both Sharif, 67, and Maryam filed separate applications for exemption from future court hearings.
Sharif, in his application, had asked to be exempted from trial hearings as the next spell of his wife's chemotherapy is about to begin.
Maryam had said that she would present herself in court whenever there is a hearing. However, she requested the court allow Jahangir Jadoon to represent her in court in case she had to leave the country in case of an emergency.
The NAB prosecutors had objected to both applications.
Talking to media later, Sharif claimed that the Panamagate verdict was given to tell the accountability court to make sure he is punished.
He added that the language used in the Panamagate verdict mirrors the language that his political opponents use.
"These courts have double standards. On one had we can all see the way my case is being treated, on the other we see how other people's cases are treated," he said.
The court began 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 November 20 as the date for the next hearing.
This is the second time the former prime minister moved the IHC to club the three references.
Earlier, the high court had accepted a petition and ordered on November 3 that the matter should be decided by the trial court. However, Accountability Judge Bashir had rejected the plea on November 8.
A five-member bench of the Supreme Court on July 28 had directed NAB to file cases against Sharif and his children in the accountability court and directed the trial court to decide the references within six months.
NAB had filed three cases on September 8 against Sharif and his family, and another case against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
The three cases against the Sharifs 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 cases, while Maryam and husband (Capt.) Muhammad Safdar have been named only in the Avenfield reference.
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