ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan’s lawyer told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that his client’s non-disclosure of the offshore company Niazi Services Limited (NSL) was an “omission”, not an act of “dishonesty”.
The arguments were an attempt by Naeem Bokhari to refute the allegations levelled by Hanif Abbasi in a petition before a three-judge Supreme Court bench.
The petition seeks the disqualification of Mr Khan and Jahangir Tareen over the non-disclosure of assets, their ownership of offshore companies and for being a foreign-funded party.
The complainant had argued that by not disclosing the NSL — an entity which was dissolved in 2015 — in his income tax returns and before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Mr Khan had ceased to be honest.
The arguments advanced by Mr Bokhari were reminiscent of the stance taken by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan during the Panama Papers case, where the court was told that in his speech to the National Assembly, the prime minister did not intentionally suppress any facts, rather gave a broad overview of his family businesses.
If anything was missed, it should be considered an omission and not dishonesty, Makhdoom Ali Khan had argued at the time.
On Wednesday, Mr Bokhari said that while he would accept if the apex court found his client guilty of gross misconduct or dishonesty, the court should remember that in this country of 220 million people, less than one million people regularly submitted their tax returns.
The counsel highlighted how Mr Khan’s name appeared nowhere in the documents from Jersey Island, where NSL was incorporated, furnished by the petitioner. Rather, his sisters Aleema Khan and Uzma Khan were directors of the company, though they did not own a single share.
Thus, when Mr Khan was neither a director nor a shareholder, the counsel argued, there was no obligation or compulsion on him to declare the company, especially when the total value of the entity was only nine pounds.
The counsel argued that Mr Khan had always been the beneficial owner of NSL, and said the Draycott flat in London, which was parked under NSL, was declared in Pakistan in 2002 through the amnesty scheme launched by the government in 2000.
Having once declared the London flat through the amnesty scheme, the disclosure was complete and now Mr Khan enjoyed absolute immunity from being questioned on the issue, Mr Bokhari argued.
The non-disclosure of the offshore entity was done as per advice, since Mr Khan was not a public office-holder at the time, the counsel was quick to add.
At this, Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed whether the strictness of the law would apply only when disclosures were to be made before the ECP.
But the counsel argued that not disclosing the entity was not a dishonest act, but an omission. He added that to date, the FBR had not initiated any inquiry or action against Mr Khan in relation to NSL or the flat.
Referring to the allegations that the NSL also had assets in addition to the London flat, the counsel argued that the burden of proof lay with the petitioner.
Mr Bokhari also tried to reconcile accounts by providing amounts remitted from London by Mr Khan’s ex-wife, Jemima Khan.
The court however reminded the counsel that though he had provided the details of three remittances from London, he still had to satisfy the court regarding five more remittances that apparently came from Jemima.
On Wednesday, Advocate Ibrahim Satti told the court that he would be representing the ECP in the case, adding that questions about the jurisdiction of the commission highlighted by PTI counsel Anwar Mansoor had been answered by the commission through a judgement issued on Wednesday.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2017