ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday warned the counsel representing the prime minister’s son Hussain Nawaz that he was taking a big gamble by withholding evidence behind the acquisition of the four London flats.
“By taking the stance ‘Sorry, I cannot tell anything’, you are telling the court to do whatever it wants to do,” regretted Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who heads a five-judge SC bench hearing the Panamagate case.
“An issue has been brought before us, but when we asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (through his counsel), he simply shrugs it off towards his children because he had nothing to do with it. When we ask his daughter Maryam, she shifts the burden to her brother. And when we ask Hussain, he says he has no information to offer,” Justice Khosa said.
Justice Azmat Saeed undergoes surgery; Panamagate proceedings likely to be postponed
The court has been repeatedly expressing concern over the fact that the Qatari connection — being the primary link in the entire story presented by the defendants to justify their resources — was not mentioned by the prime minister in his addresses to the nation and parliament.
But Advocate Salman Akram Raja argued that it was not an afterthought; Qatar was not mentioned earlier because clearance was being sought from the Qatari rulers due to the sensitivities involved. Once authorisation was received, the Qatar connection was revealed.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani must know some of the terms and conditions of the deal, since 12 million dirhams remained parked for 20 long years in Qatar, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan said.
Why didn’t Sheikh Hamad, in his Nov 5, 2016 letter, provide any document or terms in this regard to Hussain Nawaz, the judge asked.
But the counsel explained that any instructions communicated to Sheikh Jassim bin Jabber Al-Thani regarding the family business were between him and Mian Sharif — the late father of the prime minister. The grandson was not required to know about the entire business deal, the counsel argued.
After the family was beset by adversity in the shape of the Oct 12, 1999 military coup, the elder Sharif must have conveyed some instructions regarding his investments to the Qatari ruler.
During his lifetime, Mian Sharif had wished the properties to be transferred to Hussain, the counsel said, adding that this wish was communicated to Sheikh Hamad by Mian Sharif. If the court wanted to interrogate him, it should put Sheikh Hamad in the witness box, he said, but hastened to add that the court could not stretch its jurisdiction to record evidence.
Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan intervened, asking what possible presumptions the court could arrive at if it came to the conclusion that the truth had not been spoken or that it had been withheld.
But Mr Raja argued that the court could not declare any party guilty on the basis of presumptions alone, adding that when generalised allegations of corruption had been levelled, the court would have to examine how long could it stretch the fact-finding exercise, especially when no proof of the Sharifs’ ownership of the London properties prior to 2006 had been established.
The court’s objective should not be to take over the jurisdiction of the investigating agency, the counsel said.
“Are you saying that this court should not exercise its jurisdiction, which it had rightly invoked, when the election laws in this peculiar case provided no remedy and when all investigating agencies and other forums appeared to be neutralised or refused to look at the Panamagate scandal,” asked Justice Khosa.
But the counsel maintained that no agency could stand in the way in case the court issued directions to it.
At this point, Justice Khosa reminded him that the case was not against any ordinary person, but involved the chief executive of the country.
The counsel argued that the burden to prove innocence was much lighter on the defendant’s side, especially when no evidence had been provided by the petitioners, adding that the benefit of doubt should be accorded to them.
Justice Khosa recalled that Salman Aslam Butt, the prime minister’s erstwhile lawyer, dubbed the PM’s speeches “political statements”, while Makhdoom Ali Khan described them as a “broad overview”, whereas the counsel was now recounting them as “imperfect statements”.
“The court is taking note of all this,” the judge said, wondering whether some part of the prime minister’s inheritance, passed down to his heirs after the death of Mian Sharif, must have been utilised to acquire the London flats.
But the counsel reiterated his stance: it was the Sharif family’s investment in the Al-Thani real estate business that was assigned to Hussain Nawaz by Mian Sharif in his lifetime.
Justice Khosa also referred to a recent statement by a cabinet minister, who had reprimanded the court when he (Justice Khosa) had observed that some pages from the “book” of the prime minister’s life seemed to be missing.
“The member admonished us so harshly by asking us why we were not looking at the evidence provided that we had to think whether we were missing something.”
To illustrate his point that it was not too difficult to transport 12 million dirhams in cash, the counsel placed two voluminous tomes — Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov — on top of each other. He said that the thickness of both books, roughly amounting to 3,000 pages, would be the same as two million dirhams in cash.
Tariq Shafi — the cousin of the prime minister — had claimed that he deposited 12 million dirhams with the Al-Thani family in five tranches of 2 million dirhams each. “Therefore, there is no question of sending the money via camels,” he said.
Judge taken ill
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, a member of the Supreme Court bench hearing the Panamagate case, was rushed to the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology (RIC) on Tuesday night after he complained of cardiac problems.
The judge underwent angioplasty and was operated on by a team of doctors, led by former Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology commandant retired Gen Azhar Kiyani.
Gen Kiyani told Dawn that Justice Saeed complained of pain in his chest and was brought to the hospital for a check-up. “He underwent a procedure and has been shifted to the ICU, where he is in a stable condition,” he said.
He said the judge would have to remain in hospital for a few days and that doctors had advised him to rest after the procedure.
As a result, today’s (Wednesday) hearing of the Panamagate case may be postponed.
Aamir Yasin from Rawalpindi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2017