Clean chit or conviction? What analysts are saying about Pakistan's Panama verdict

The verdict is almost in, here are some possible outcomes.
Published April 19, 2017

All eyes are on the Supreme Court as we inch closer to the Panamagate verdict. On Thursday afternoon a five-member larger bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa will announce the judgement. All kinds of theories, fears and hopes have been associated with the case ever since the Panama Papers were leaked in April last year. reached out to experts and commentators for their predictions about this historic decision.

The prime minister will not go unscathed

By Zahid Hussain

Most likely outcome:

It’s going to be a very complicated ruling but I think one thing seems to be clear: the prime minister will not go unscathed, whatever the ruling may be. Because the onus was on his family to prove [the allegations wrong], and it seems that they have failed to do so. So I don’t know – I’m not sure that the court will go to the extreme of ultimate humiliation, to remove him from office.

Best-case and worst-case scenarios

The best-case scenario for the country would be that the judgment should be in accordance to the norms of justice. Even if they have to take a very hard decision, it will strengthen the democratic process rather than weakening it.

I think the worst-case scenario is a kind of judgment that remains inconclusive and is based on some kind of a law of necessity. We have seen this in past cases, judgments have come on basis of law of necessity, which means they had gone along with the power.

Zahid Hussain is an author and journalist. He tweets @hidhussain.

Sharif unlikely to be sent home

By Khurram Husain

The issue here is whether Nawaz Sharif will be sent home or not. Anything less than Nawaz being sent home is, really, not very meaningful. I will be very surprised if the court does that. It will be the first time the court has ever exercised these powers under Article 184, under which the investigation has been launched. So, for me, as a complete non-expert, I think it is very unlikely that Nawaz will be sent home. The SC will be setting a huge precedent if they were to do that.

The other thing the court can do is maybe order further investigation; refer the matter to a judicial commission, or refer it back to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and say, ‘The cases ought to be pursued and they ought to be brought to a logical conclusion’. That’s an outcome short of ousting the prime minister.

For me, the most likely outcome is that Nawaz will stay. It will be very consequential, but frankly, I’m not anticipating a disqualification. After this everybody will move into campaign gear for the next election. That’s the major news cycle that will open up.

Khurram Husain is a member of Dawn's editorial staff and tweets @khurramhusain.

The judgement won't trigger early elections

By Amber Rahim Shamsi

While the prime minister will probably dodge the disqualification bullet, the Sharif family - perhaps Maryam Nawaz – might have to suffer the fallout of the Panama judgement. It is also possible that a commission will be formed for further investigations given the lack of solid evidence from either side. The NAB is certainly going to get the short end of the stick.

In other words, the judgement will give a little to each party for their respective political spin. The PMLN will claim the prime minister had presented himself for accountability and his name was cleared. The PTI will use selective portions to drag the Sharifs over the coals.

The judgement is unlikely to trigger early elections, nor will it give it hand a clear-cut victory for either party. In the PTI’s case, the disqualification of the prime minister; for the PMLN, a clean chit. If the case was simply whether the prime minister lied to the parliament and the court, and made contradictory statements, the PTI could have easily made a case. But the PTI had to link Nawaz Sharif to the London apartments bought from money laundered out of the country, through a Maryam Nawaz dependent on her father. Neither the PTI was plausibly able to make the connection – thus its emphasis on 62/63 – but neither was PMLN able to provide a credible story either.

Whatever the layers of the judgement it will certainly provide fresh impetus and material to PTI. The only problem is that Panama might have receded from the public’s memory by 2018. It will also trigger another round of petitions and counter-petitions in the courts and the Election Commission. But PTI has successfully associated the Sharif family with corruption, and unless the PMLN is able deliver on key promises like ending load-shedding, this could hurt the party electorally.

Amber Rahim Shamsi hosts NewsEye on DawnNews. She tweets @AmberRShamsi.

No serious discrepancies will be found

By Salahuddin Ahmed

The worst-case for the petitioner will be that the petition is dismissed on the grounds that it involves complicated factual questions that have to be investigated by concerned state agencies and adjudicated before appropriate courts/forums.

I think that the more likely scenario would be that there will not appear any serious discrepancies in [Nawaz Sharif and his children's] explanations regarding the flat and how it was bought, and how the money left Pakistan. The court would either direct the concerned agencies like FIA (money laundering) or FBR (tax evasion) to investigate and present report to SC itself, or appoint a commission to investigate factual aspects and present report to SC (to forward on to appropriate agencies for filing of cases etc).

Salahuddin Ahmed is a lawyer based in Karachi.

Adverse observations against PM will fuel further debate

By Furkan Ali

Best and worst-case scenarios

I think the best-case scenario will be that the SC recommends relevant authorities to investigate the matter and, if required, initiate criminal proceedings to be decided within a specified time. It would also be good to see the SC recommend further scrutiny for elected officials going forward, for e.g., all tax returns and asset declarations of federal cabinet in future to be scrutinised periodically by an independent body and open to public.

The worst-case scenario would be the SC exceeding jurisdiction and sending government packing. Although some would like to see this happen, I think it is highly unlikely.

Most likely outcome

SC may form a commission to investigate the money trail, with law enforcement agencies acting in accordance with law on the basis of its report. There may well be some adverse observations against the PM, which will probably fuel further debate.

Furkan Ali is a Karachi-based barrister at law and a partner at LMA Ebrahim Hosain.