In a big legal victory for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, its vice president Maryam Nawaz was on Thursday acquitted by a high court in a corruption case which will allow her to contest elections.
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) accepted the appeal of Maryam, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and that of her husband Muhammad Safdar who had challenged their convictions by an anti-corruption court in the Avenfield property case in July 2018.
The Avenfield case refers to the purchase of four posh flats in Avenfield House, Park Lane in London.
A two-judge bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani hearing their appeals said the opinion of the investigating officer could not be considered as evidence.
“The joint investigation team did not present any facts, it just collected information,” Justice Kayani observed.
At the conclusion of the case, the bench held that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the prosecutor in the case, failed to establish the charges of corruption.
The NAB had accused the Sharifs of purchasing the flats with money over and above their known sources of income. The Sharifs rejected the accusation of wrongdoing but were unable to show where the money for the flats had come from.
The NAB in September had admitted before the IHC that the PML-N leader had no direct role in purchasing the Avenfield properties.
Thursday’s verdict has paved the way for Maryam, 48, to be eligible to contest elections.
Lawyer Mirza Moiz Baig said: “A person who has been convicted of a crime involving corruption or moral turpitude is disqualified from contesting elections unless a period of five years has lapsed since their release.” Maryam in a brief chat with the media outside the court said they had been “vindicated”.
As she talked to the media, she also spoke to her father Nawaz Sharif in London and also received another call from her uncle Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who congratulated her on her acquittal.
The Prime Minister later in his reaction to the verdict said the “edifice of lies, slander and character assassination” had come crumbling down.
“Maryam’s acquittal in the Avenfield reference is a slap in the face of the so-called accountability system that was employed to target the Sharif family. My congratulations to Maryam beti (daughter) and Safdar,” he tweeted.
“Maryam Nawaz and Nawaz Sharif’s connection to the assets beyond means has not been proven,” remarked the court on Thursday.
“How do Wajid Zia’s statement and the material presented to prove the prosecution’s case?” the court inquired.
Zia was the investigating officer who headed the joint investigation team (JIT) that probed the Panama gate, leading to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif.
While Maryam and her husband were convicted along with the PML-N supremo, the elder Sharif was handed down 10 years in jail, his daughter sentenced to seven years in prison, and her husband was sentenced to one year in prison.
They had filed appeals against their conviction before the IHC in the second week of August 2018 and the court had on September 18 the same year suspended their sentences and released them on bail.
The elder Sharif’s appeal is still pending as has been living in London and failed to appear before the court despite being given several opportunities.
Overturning the conviction of his daughter, however, opens a window for him to come back and get his bail processed with the hope to get relief.