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SC unhappy with cyclical arguments in Panama case

February 16, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Exasperated by the repetitive arguments being advanced before it despite a fortnight’s break, the Supreme Court on Wednesday wondered why the questions that were doing the rounds on day one of the Panama Papers leaks case continued to linger on.

“Where is the actual document to show that Hussain Nawaz, the elder son of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is the owner of the four London flats?” asked Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, a member of the five-judge Supreme Court bench who rejoined proceedings after recovering from a cardiac ailment.

Justice Saeed had developed chest pains at the last hearing on Jan 31 and had to be rushed to the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology, where doctors reportedly advised him to take a break.

When the members of the bench arrived in Courtroom No. 2 on Wednesday to resume the hearing of the Panamagate case, senior counsel Salman Akram Raja — who represents Hussain and Hassan Nawaz — greeted Justice Saeed cordially.

At this, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa — who heads the bench — observed that the judges were grateful to everybody who prayed for the speedy recovery of their fellow judge.

But the ever-witty Justice Saeed, pointing towards the counsel, said he should not expect “an easy ride”.

“Let’s call a spade a spade and show the court the relevant papers to reveal who paid Minerva Services [for the services rendered to Nielson and Nescoll, which own the four London properties],” he remarked.


Salman Akram Raja questions court’s ‘inquisitorial’ jurisdiction; Justice Saeed returns to bench in good spirits


The court also expected the counsel to provide the agreements between Minerva Services and Maryam Nawaz, to establish that the latter was a trustee and not the beneficial owner of the London flats.

Advocate Raja retorted that he would ask his clients to provide the documents for submission to the court.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, Justice Khosa cited two different interviews given by Hassan Nawaz, where he claimed that the London properties were mortgaged. In contrast, the family claimed that the flats were transferred to them by the Qatari Al-Thani family in 2006 in lieu of investments made by the late Mian Mohammad Sharif.

But the counsel insisted that Hassan must have meant some other properties, since he was in the business of buying and selling mortgaged properties since 2001, adding that his client had also received funds from the sale of the Azizia factory in 2005. However, he said that he would check and inform the court of the actual situation.

The counsel argued that the petitioners had failed to link Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to any wrongdoing, nor found any culpability. Since no serious charge could be established against the prime minister except general allegations, there was no possibility of holding his children accountable for the allegations levelled by the petitioners.

Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan regretted that the court was getting bogged down, describing the case as an onion, that yielded a new surprise every day.

“Every day, new documents and new queries are coming up. How shall we sum it all up?” the judge observed.

On Wednesday, the counsel recalled the 2012 Arsalan Iftikhar case, where the Supreme Court had determined the scope of inquisitorial proceedings in hearings under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

The counsel also raised 11 legal propositions, asking whether the Supreme Court could set up a commission to carry out an investigation into alleged crimes when the authority to carry out such a probe was vested with the designated investigation agencies under different statues.

Can or should a commission render a determination with respect to the culpability of any person in an alleged crime, even though Article 10A requires that such a determination be carried out by the court specified by the relevant statute, the counsel asked.

Can or should this court assume a jurisdiction vested in another court by exercising powers under articles 184(3) or 187 of the Constitution?

Whether the Supreme Court can carry out an inquisitive investigation into an alleged crime and can this court pre-empt the investigative function required to be carried out by an investigative agency designated by the law?

Can this court declare a person or a group of persons guilty without conducting a trial and without specification of the particular charge against any particular person, the counsel asked.

Can this court allow a “fishing or roving inquiry”, the purpose of which was to find some wrongdoing by any member of the Sharif family or the prime minister over a 45-year period.

Should this court deny the right of appeal to an accused by conducting, in effect, a trial at the level of the Supreme Court, wondered Salman Akram Raja.

But Justice Khosa was unmoved. “We were expecting that this would be the stage that would make or break the case,” he observed, referring to an interview of Maryam Nawaz where she had claimed that her family did not own any properties, in London or in Pakistan.

He said that everything was going against the Sharif family because of their own words and the apparent inconsistencies between their statements. “It is more of a case of honesty than evidence,” the judge observed.

The counsel, however, contended that her statement was not a specific answer to a specific question, adding that her comment was a spur-of-the-moment response.

When Justice Khosa wondered how the London flats were at Hassan Nawaz’ disposal when he was a student in the UK between 1994 and 1999, Advocate Raja surprised everyone by saying that Hamza Shahbaz, Hassan’s cousin, had also resided at the London flats during his student days. However, he hastened to add that he still needed to verify this information.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan, meanwhile, regretted that no document had been produced before the court to show how the funds for investment in Qatar were generated.

Justice Saeed, meanwhile, appeared to be in good spirits following his health scare. At one point during proceedings, he mused that his colleagues were staring at him and one of his brother judges had, in jest, asked him not to kill himself by asking too many questions.

Published in Dawn February 16th, 2017