ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) did not have a good day in court on Thursday after it unwittingly shouldered the burden of proving the allegation that the prime minister and his children had laundered money to purchase their London properties.
Things started to go wrong for the party when their senior counsel Hamid Khan opened his arguments before the five-judge Supreme Court bench hearing the Panamagate case.
He quoted at length from three speeches made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — on April 5, April 22 and May 16 — to proclaim his innocence before the nation.
During his reading, the counsel even mentioned — to the surprise of an uneasy Imran Khan, who was sitting in the first row of a packed Courtroom No 1 — questions the prime minister had raised in his speeches; demanding answers to the confinement of judges to their houses after the Nov 3, 2007, emergency or the ordeal he and his family had to suffer during the Musharraf era and the nationalisation of the Ittefaq Foundry in 1972, etc.
Judges urge Hamid Khan to focus submissions on Sharifs’ London properties
But the court was not impressed and asked the counsel to build his case and not politick.
“Instead of going into mind-numbing rhetoric, the counsel should have relied on the documents submitted by the prime minister and his family members,” Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed observed, adding that Mr Khan’s case should be that the documents the respondents are relying on were wrong.
“Please focus on the [case] at hand,” Justice Saeed advised the petitioner’s counsel, adding that the court could not draw any conclusion on the basis of the prime minister’s speeches.
“You should have put them in to bat within five minutes of your arguments,” Justice Saeed said while chiding the PTI counsel for not questioning the respondents directly. He also expressed the apprehension that the way proceedings were going, this hearing would likely continue until the year 2099.
When the counsel pointed out that the prime minister had promised the nation he would quit if found guilty, Justice Khosa reminded Hamid Khan that the PM had made that promise with himself, not with the counsel.
The PTI’s lawyer also lamented that the speeches failed to offer any explanation of how the Sharifs generated the capital to install factories in Dubai when they had gone broke after the nationalisation of their industries, nor did they explain where the family found the money to revive sick industrial units that were handed over to them in 1983.
“The prime minister also failed to mention that he was a provincial finance minister in 1980,” Mr Khan emphasised.
The court, more interested in the matter at hand, nudged the counsel in the direction of a financial investigation report carried out by an agency in the British Virgin Islands in 1999 for the Al-Taufiq case, where a suspicious activity report had also been generated.
A UK-based bank, Al-Taufiq had taken the Sharif family to court after they defaulted on a loan. In that case, the four controversial properties were attached as collateral since the beneficial ownership of the flats rested with the late Mian Mohammad Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and Abbas Sharif, meaning that the flats were in the Sharif family’s possession, even in 1999.
At one point, when the counsel contested the prime minister’s claims regarding the payment of Rs360 million in tax, Justice Khosa observed that it was not the court’s job to scrutinise the entire life of a person. The judge said that the matter of paying taxes was irrelevant to the case at hand and asked the counsel to focus his arguments on the London properties.
The chief justice also emphasised that in criminal trials, the benefit of the doubt always went in the favour of the suspect, adding that the counsel’s arguments were not a substitute for tangible proof.
“We are giving you the chance to address the court for the sake of our satisfaction, but after hearing you for over an hour, we are still at the same position,” the bench observed.
“On the basis of your arguments and replies filed, it seems [the case] is not so simple that we may straightaway come to a definite conclusion and pass an order unless there is a detailed inquiry within a solid time frame, conducted by an inquiry commission headed by a Supreme Court judge,” the chief justice observed.
At one point, Justice Khosa even quipped that it appeared that the judges were more prepared than the lawyers in the case, especially since an elected prime minister was in the dock.
This situation forced Naeem Bukhari — another member of the PTI legal team — to intervene and recall the 2000 Zafar Ali Shah case, where the attachment of these properties in the Al-Taufiq case had been mentioned.
But Justice Khosa reminded him that these were submissions and not court observations in that judgement.
The chief justice, however, regretted that the Zafar Ali Shah should not have been brought up. He also told the counsel that in case he persisted in arguing about the case, the court would have to constitute a full-court bench to hear the matter — since the Zafar Ali Shah case was adjudicated by a full-court bench as well.
The apex court will now resume hearing in the Panamagate matter on Nov 30.
Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2016