ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not intentionally suppress any facts in his speech before the National Assembly on the Panama Papers issue, rather he gave a broad overview about his family’s businesses set up by his father, the counsel for the prime minister told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
“The prime minister may have inadvertently omitted something, but he was not making a sworn, itemised submission in a court of law,” Makhdoom Ali Khan argued before a five-judge Supreme Court bench hearing petitions seeking the disqualification of the prime minister under Article 63(1 f) of the Constitution.
You’re putting in words different from what Salman Aslam Butt, who earlier represented the prime minister, had stated — that the PM made a “political statement” on the floor of the house, observed Justice Asif Saeed Khosa.
Makhdoom Ali Khan says apex court must decide whether Sharif lied or committed inadvertent omission
In turn, the counsel asked how many discrepancies and contradictions there were in the itemised petition moved by the PTI, which had been filed after days of consultation and deliberations by senior lawyers.
“We hope you will not seek the disqualification of their lawyers,” Justice Khosa quipped, but the counsel was adamant that “those who live by the sword should also be ready to die by the sword”.
“Then, should the statement of the prime minister be construed as a half-truth or a lie,” wondered Justice Khosa. Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, however, highlighted the difference between intentional suppression of the truth and an inadvertent omission.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan recalled that the prime minister’s May 16, 2016 address to parliament was not an extempore address, but a written speech.
By that time, talk of the commission to probe the allegations levelled in the Panama Papers had already begun and the prime minister knew whatever he might say would be subject to scrutiny, Justice Khosa observed.
Instead, Mr Khan emphasised that the prime minister never owned any offshore company in the British Virgin Islands, or any other tax havens, nor had he been a shareholder, director, guarantor of any loans or the beneficial owner of any overseas investment.
Therefore, the prime minister could not be asked to justify or answer for the business of his sons, the counsel argued, adding that it was up to his children to furnish any material record.
The premier never uttered a false statement, he said, and reminded the court of the consequence for those who made false accusations, which entail a three- to five-year jail term.
Dissecting line by line the prime minister’s speech before the National Assembly, the counsel argued that his client never said that the proceeds from the sale of the Jeddah Steel Mills helped start the business of his sons, rather, utilised it was in their business.
When he referred to the premier’s statement that he had nothing to hide because his life was like an open book, Justice Khosa observed that many pages from that book seemed to be missing.
Highlighting different contradictions in the PTI petition, the PM’s counsel pleaded that the court should not overstretch the limits of its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, recalling that former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was disqualified on a challenge to the speaker’s decision to reject a disqualification reference based on contempt of court for flouting apex court directions.
The burden to prove all allegations rested with the petitioners and not the prime minister, who had nothing to do with the money which was not his, the counsel said.
If he got nothing out of the sale, then the PM was not required to disclose anything, nor was he obliged to pay taxes. The entire business was run by his father, who was in charge of everything until his death in 2004, after which the business was handled in accordance with his [Mian Sharif’s] instructions.
These instructions had been elaborated in the Nov 5, 2016 Qatari letter, the counsel said, and reminded the court that Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani was the same individual who once bought a Picasso painting for $179.4 million.
He emphasised that it was for the court to determine whether the premier had lied or made inadvertent omissions in his speech.
When the court asked why the prime minister had not placed anything on the record to show how the money went to Jeddah from Dubai and landed in London, the counsel maintained the PM never had the use of this money. Therefore, his children would explain this when their turn came.
The prime minister had been tried earlier before several forums over similar allegations, but nothing had come of it, the counsel said, saying there was no material to contradict him.
At the fag end of Thursday’s proceedings, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed observed that an edifice was being created to block the truth — sometimes by the petitioner and sometimes by the respondent — at a time when the nation wanted the true picture.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2017