ISLAMABAD: Large cash transactions that bypass normal banking channels are not beyond the realm of possibility, the counsel for the prime minister’s son told the Supreme Court bench hearing the Panamagate case on Monday.
In his second affidavit before the Supreme Court, Tariq Shafi — the prime minister’s cousin — had explained how he deposited 12 million dirhams in cash with the late Sheikh Fahad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani of Qatar after receiving the same amount in five tranches from Mohammad Abdullah Kayed Ahli, the owner of Ahli Steel Company (formerly Gulf Steel Mills) after the sale of 25pc of the mill’s shares held by Mr Shafi.
Why would a five-judge Supreme Court bench be hearing the Panamagate case had the money been transacted through normal banking channels, argued Salman Akram Raja, who represents Hussain Nawaz, recalling how an Arab Sheikh once drove 64 million dirhams to pay the salaries of his workers.
“Was the money transacted on camelback?” asked Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed. But Mr Raja maintained that it was common knowledge that in Faisalabad — one of the country’s industrial hubs — huge sums of money were transacted in cash even today.
Judges ask how Gulf Steel liabilities were settled; counsel says mill was debt-free at time of sale
Though he assured the court that not a single penny left Pakistan to help establish Gulf Steel in 1972, the man behind the mills was the late Mian Mohammad Sharif — the prime minister’s father — and he was the one who had to answer these questions.
Are we going to sit in judgement over how Mian Sharif conducted his businesses by violating foreign currency rules, the counsel wondered, adding that any explanation of how Mian Sharif had paid the liabilities of his company would be mere speculation at this point.
The court was asking about 45-year-old transactions, the counsel said, adding that payment in cash was a routine practice at the time and, unless disproven through documentary evidence, this practice could not be rejected.
“There may be many unanswered questions,” the counsel said, “but both Hussain and Hassan were students then and therefore not privy to any activity of Mian Sharif — a patriarch who was running the business of the Sharif family entirely on his own”.
Following the Oct 12, 1999, military coup, both brothers left the country never to return again, the counsel argued, regretting that they were expected to provide even the minutest of details of the business deals or a meticulous trail of documents in respect of transactions that were made in the 1980s and earlier, which they had nothing to do with.
“We are asking them because the prime minister [through his counsel] had said to ask them,” reminded Justice Asif Saeed Khosa — who heads the five-judge Supreme Court bench.
Justice Azmat Saeed also reminded the counsel that a judgement had to be passed by the court, not the counsel.
Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan also recalled that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his May 16, 2016, speech before parliament, had clearly stated that all records were available and could be presented whenever required.
The prime minister had even stated that they had loads of evidence to prove themselves innocent, Justice Khosa reminded the counsel, but Mr Raja retorted that he did not represent the prime minister.
At this, Justice Saeed observed that the court was taking note of everything and would consider the question of dishonesty under Article 62(1f) of the Constitution, that asks for the disqualification of a member of the parliament for not being honest and righteous.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan wondered how it was possible that no bank was involved at any stage for the transfer of funds from Dubai to the Al-Thani family in Qatar. “You are not averse to holding money in banks?” the judge asked.
The court needed to know the factual position of how the liabilities of the company, which was in negative equity of 15 million dirhams, were met, Justice Gulzar Ahmed said.
However, the counsel maintained his position that Gulf Steel was a debt-free company at the time of its off-loading. To understand everything, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of Mian Sharif, who trusted his friends — especially when he had lost everything when Ittefaq Foundaries was nationalised in 1972 and Bangladesh emerged on the map of the world.
“Everything was fine and his friends were standing by him until the time Panama Papers leaks surfaced, unfortunately,” Justice Khosa quipped while closing the day’s proceedings.
The counsel emphasised that the current hearing was not a NAB trial, and quoted different citations to argue that the accused was to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Therefore, the burden to establish the allegations was not on the accused.
Earlier, NAB Prosecutor General Waqas Qadeer Dar told the court that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was pardoned on April 21, 2000, for volunteering his confessional statement before a magistrate under section 164 of the CrPC. Then, on April 25, 2000, he became prosecution witness against the prime minister in the Rs1.2 billion Hudaibiya money laundering scam.
The prosecutor general also furnished a handwritten application by Mr Dar to the then NAB chairman, who approved the pardon in April 2000.
The court, however, asked the prosecutor to inform the court whether NAB consciously made a decision not to move a challenge before the Supreme Court when a Lahore High Court referee judge, Justice Sardar Shamim, quashed the money laundering reference on March 11, 2014.
We would also consider whether the decision of not going into appeal was made under the incumbent NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, and we would also like to hear why institutions such as the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the State Bank, Federal Board of Revenue and NAB did nothing in this regard.
Earlier, Shahid Hamid, appearing for Ishaq Dar, argued that the petitioners had failed to make any case against his client, therefore it was not a case where the extraordinary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution could be invoked.
Moreover, his client could not be prosecuted again and again for old allegations when 13 different judges had already dealt with them on different occasions.
At this, Justice Ejaz Afzal observed that the court understood that the confessional statement of Mr Dar, which he volunteered, could not be used against him or Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as circumstantial evidence.
On Monday, the prime minister’s counsel also submitted the inheritance record following the demise of Mian Sharif in a sealed envelope for judges’ eyes only.
Published in Dawn January 31st, 2017