ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday proposed calling members of the prime minister’s family to examine whether they would abide by the stance they had taken on four London flats in their previous statements.
“I propose to display the interviews of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children on the ownership of the London properties and then we can ask the other party (defendants) to deny these,” said Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who is heading a five-judge bench hearing the Panama Papers case.
The suggestion came when Naeem Bokhari, the counsel for PTI chief Imran Khan, sought the court’s permission to refer to a number of interviews given by the prime minister, his wife and children on different occasions to highlight that every member of the Sharif family had taken a divergent stand on the ownership of the properties in London’s Park Lane.
Reference made to divergent statements given in interviews
However, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said that calling the members of the PM’s family would come into play if the court decided to record their evidence in the Panamagate case, which it was not doing now.
The judge asked the counsel twice not to muddy the waters when the latter reminded the bench of past instances when the courts relied on newspaper reports while deciding a number of cases and said that when these reports were not denied by the PM’s family members then it carried weight.
Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan told the counsel that if he relied on the newspaper reports then its evidentiary value would have to be determined.
Mr Bokhari contended that the stance taken by the PM’s children was in direct contradiction to the position taken by the prime minister in his April 5, 2016, address to the nation and May 16 speech in parliament in which no mention of Qatari investment by the family was even remotely made.
He then cited an April 10, 2000, interview of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz to Rory McCarthy of the Guardian in which she conceded that the London flats had been bought because her son was studying there.
At this, Justice Saeed again cautioned the counsel that he was entering a dangerous territory and said if “we start hanging people on television interviews or newspaper clippings then your client will not survive either”.
When Mr Bokhari referred to a November 1999 interview of Hassan Nawaz with BBC’s Tim Sebastian, Justice Khosa said in a lighter vein that even seasoned politicians were afraid of being interviewed in the “Hard Talk” programme.
In the interview, the counsel recalled, Hassan conceded that he was living on rent as a tenant in the flats because he was a student then for which money came from every corner of Pakistan, but not from his father.
“One thing is clear that in 1999 this son had no income of his own but he was living in the London flats,” Justice Khosa said.
Mr Bokhari also referred to a Nov 8, 2011, interview of Maryam Nawaz by Sana Bucha in her programme “Laikin” to highlight three admissions that she did not own any house in Pakistan, she lived with her father and that she denied absolutely any connection with any property inside or outside the country.
The interview was given at a time when rumours of leakages of certain papers had started making the rounds, he argued.
Mr Bokhari then referred to an interview of Hussain Nawaz by Javed Chaudhry of Express News on March 7, 2016, in which he admitted that his brother Hassan had been doing business for 21 years in London and he provided money to his brother to establish his business.
Justice Khosa observed that it meant the son had been doing business since 1995 and said the individual (Hussain) who had admitted the ownership of the flats himself lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Mr Bokhari said the prime minister in his speeches had claimed that the money had been generated through the sale of a factory in Jeddah, adding that the key point in the interview again was that there was no mention of the Qatari letter or any wish of Mohammad Sharif — the grandfather — that the London property should go to his grandson (Hussain).
He again referred to a Nov 17, 2009, interview of the prime minister by Hamid Mir and Sohail Warraich in which Mr Sharif stated that he had dissociated himself with the family business in 1997.
“Do we have any document or record of this disassociation?” Justice Khosa asked the counsel who replied in the negative.
Justice Khosa also recalled the speeches of the prime minister that when Ittefaq Factory had been nationalised in 1972, returned in 1979 and then closed down during the Musharraf regime, the family was left with not a single penny. Then they left for Jeddah and established a factory there. From where the funds came, Justice Khosa wondered.
He also referred to a television interview of Haroon Pasha, the financial adviser of Sharif’s business, in which he claimed that all the record and document about money transactions had been provided to the lawyer who would present it before the court. But when the court asked the prime minister’s former counsel (Salman Aslam Butt) about the record on Dec 9, 2016, he said he did not have any.
When Mr Bokhari tried to establish that Maryam was and still dependant of the prime minister as well as the beneficial owner of the London flats and that the prime minister was obliged to declare this fact in his statement of assets every year, Justice Khosa wondered whether the counsel was trying to establish that the prime minister as well as his children was not honest and whether he wanted disqualification of the prime minister or his children.
Mr Bokhari said he wanted disqualification of the prime minister, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and retired Capt Safdar, the PM’s son-in-law, as the nomination papers of the children would automatically be challenged whenever they chose to contest elections in future.
Justice Ejaz Afzal repeatedly asked the counsel to define the term “dependant” and cite any judgement in this regard and said if Maryam owned expensive properties in London and when the petitioner argued that she was the beneficial owner then how could she be called dependant of the prime minister. Unless the word dependant was defined clearly, it would mean having a castle in the air, he observed.
The anxiety of the court as well as the interest generated in this case was because everybody needed to find the truth, Justice Saeed said, adding that the stand taken by the defendant, if not correct, did not automatically make the petitioner’s claim right.
“You still have to prove it,” the judge observed, adding that the court needed material evidence to show that they owned the properties before 2006.
“Do not make sweeping statements to tempt the court,” the judge said smilingly.
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2017