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Panamagate arguments end, SC reserves judgement

Updated February 23, 2017

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After both the defence and prosecution completed their arguments on Thursday, the Supreme Court said it would reserve its verdict on the Panamagate case and issue a detailed judgement.

"It seems 'justice' is whatever serves [each party's] interests," Justice Asif Saeed Khosa remarked as the arguments wound up.

"If a judgement is not in someone's interest, they [will] say the judiciary is corrupt, or that maybe the judges aren't fit to handle such cases," he commented.

"And if a judgement benefits their own stand [on the issue], they will say there can be no better judge," he added.

"We will decide this case only by the law; such that people will say, 20 years down the line, that this judgement was made by the book," he concluded.

The case pertains to investments allegedly made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his family in Mossack Fonseca, an offshore investment company.

The investment came to light as part of a massive leak of secret files from a Panamanian law firm that is a specialised consultant dealing in the setting up of offshore companies in tax havens.

Data from the Panama Papers, available on the website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — which comprises around 100 news organisations and 300 journalists that worked on mining the data simultaneously — had revealed the offshore holdings of members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family.

According to documents available on the ICIJ website, the PM’s children — Mariam, Hasan and Hussain — “were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies”.

PTI counsel's arguments

During Thursday's hearing of the case, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's counsel, Advocate Naeem Bokhari, presented his arguments before the SC's five-member bench and revisited various elements of the case.

Bokhari reminded the bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, that the Sharif family had failed to provide an explanation for the Gulf Steel Mills set up in Dubai in 1974.

The court reminded Bokhari that the petitions submitted by the PTI did not mention the steel mills; nonetheless, the counsel continued, the mill's liabilities had exceeded 63 million dirhams and a sufficient explanation was not offered as to how these were settled.

During his arguments, Bokhari also referred to documents purporting to show Maryam Nawaz's involvement with Minerva Financial Services, as highlighted by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in a tweet in January.

The question of Maryam Nawaz's signatures

Maryam Nawaz's counsel, Shahid Hamid, had argued earlier that the signatures attributed to Maryam Nawaz on the documents in question were fake. However, Bokhari maintained in his rebuttal that the documents were correct.

"You say that the documents with Maryam's signature are correct, the Sharif family says they are fake," Justice Sheikh Azmat remarked.

The court told the lawyer that the assistance of an expert should have been sought in light of reservations concerning the validity of the documents.

The court would have accepted the testimony of an expert, the bench said, with Justice Ijaz Afzal asking how the bench could accept documents without looking into their validity.

Justice Khosa said the bench would give equal weight to all documents submitted before it during the course of the hearings. However, he added that none of the documents submitted by the parties in the case had come from verifiable sources.

'PM failed to act appropriately'

Bokhari's rebuttal mentioned the speech delivered by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the National Assembly in May 2016 following the Panama Papers leaks.

He reiterated his stance that the premier had failed to speak the truth in the House and did not demonstrate honesty.

"How can such a person be the prime minister?" Bokhari asked.

He also asked why the prime minister had failed to send a notice to or act appropriately against Mossack Fonseca if the leaks against him and his family members were indeed inaccurate and not representative.

Bokhari pointed out that for a year, there had been no mention of the Qatari connection by the Sharif family, drawing the court's attention to two letters submitted before the bench during the hearing of the case.

The letters had sought to show that the Sharif family's various businesses and investments were made with the assistance of the Al Thani family, the ruling family of Qatar.

The Qatari letter said that loans were paid off, but how could such a huge sum be transferred without involving banks, Bokhari asked.

"From 1980 till 2004, the Qatari prince acted as a bank. There were returns on investments and profits were earned," Bokhari told the bench.

Justice Khosa told the lawyer that if unverifiable documents are rejected, 99pc of what has been submitted before the bench would be done away with and no progress would be made.

Sheikh Rasheed presents arguments

As he began his arguments before the bench, Awami Muslim League (AML) leader Sheikh Rasheed questioned how the Dubai mills were set up and where the investment came from.

"The Sharif family has not provided a response regarding the investments made in Qatar," the AML chief said, adding: "The nation wants to be rid of corruption."

"The prime minister [himself] had said those guilty of corruption do not register companies and property in their name," Sheikh Rasheed said, adding that 20 people had been disqualified by the courts on the basis of hiding assets.

He also pointed to the court that a former chairman of the National Accountability Bureau had been "fired" by the courts on the request of the interior minister.

"We do not fire people, we make decisions" the court responded.

Sheikh Rasheed, returning his attention to the Panamagate case, said that the case had already been made apparent and the on-going proceeding was a waste of time.

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) also submitted a rebuttal in the form of a written document before the Supreme Court, stating that "it has been established that the prime minister's speech [in parliament] was incorrect."

JI called for the prime minister to be disqualified on the basis of that speech.

The party also asked the court to summon the Qatari prince, who had written the letters. "If he does not present himself, the letters should be discarded," their counsel concluded.