Islamabad: A top Pakistani court on Thursday acquitted ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz in a corruption case in which she was jailed for seven years, in a major legal victory for the three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter who is now eligible to contest elections.
On Thursday, a two-judge Islamabad High Court bench comprising Justices Aamer Farooq and Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, acquitted her, saying Maryam and Nawaz Sharif’s connection to the assets beyond means has not been proven in the Avenfield case.
She was jailed for seven years by an anti-corruption court that also slapped a fine of 2 million pound after it found her guilty of being “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Avenfield case, a few weeks before the general elections in 2018.
Maryam, the 48-year-old heir apparent of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, was not eligible to contest elections due to her conviction.
Her husband Capt Safdar was also handed one year in jail for failure to cooperate with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and for aiding and abetting Nawaz and Maryam.
Maryam and her husband challenged their convictions in the Avenfield property case and their appeal was accepted by the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
The Avenfield case refers to the purchase of four posh flats in Avenfield House, Park Lane in London.
Hearing their appeals, the two-judge bench said on Thursday that 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 NAB, the prosecutor in the case, failed to establish the charges of corruption.
“For the reasons to be recorded later, the instant appeal is allowed and the judgement dated July 6, 2018, is set aside,” said a brief order, according to Dawn newspaper.
It added that Maryam and Captain Safdar’s convictions have been set aside and they have been acquitted of the charges in the reference.
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.
“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,” lawyer Mirza Moiz Baig said.
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.