As the Supreme Court (SC) resumed hearing the Panama Papers case on Monday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and the Sharif family's lawyers submitted separate objections to the "damning" final report of the joint investigation team (JIT) that probed allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family.
A three-member apex bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal, and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, took up the case after nearly two months.
In the objections filed before the SC, the Sharif family and the finance minister rejected the JIT report and argued that the team had exceeded its mandate.
The bench heard arguments from lawyers of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and Sheikh Rashid. During his statements before the judges, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) lead counsel Naeem Bokhari requested that PM Nawaz Sharif should be asked to come to the court for questioning.
Adjourning the hearing until tomorrow, the judges directed PML-N's lawyers to present their arguments on Tuesday. The bench also called lawyers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to the next hearing.
PTI counsel's arguments
Putting forward his arguments before the apex bench, Bokhari highlighted certain findings from the JIT report, including the alleged false testimony of Tariq Shafi, who is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's cousin and a key respondent in the case.
Shafi recorded a "false testimony" earlier regarding an agreement that he made in 1980 with Abdullah Kayed Ahli, the owner of Ahli Steel Company, Dubai in which Shafi held 25 per cent shares, said Bokhari.
According to Shafi's testimony, under the agreement signed at the time of the sale of the Sharif family’s Gulf Steel Mills, Shafi’s shares in Ahli’s company were sold and a net aggregate sum of 12 million dirhams was agreed upon.
Shafi stated that he had deposited the massive sum with Sheikh Fahad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani of Qatar, after receiving each instalment from Mohammad Abdullah Kayed Ahli.
The JIT sought legal assistance from the United Arab Emirates [in conducting its investigations] and found that the transaction of 12m dirhams never took place, Bokhari said.
"It was claimed that the Gulf Steel Mills were sold for 33m dirhams," Bokhari said, arguing that this was not the case and the Sharif family had been unable to clear its position regarding the mills.
"According to the JIT, the funds for investment in Qatar were not available [to the Sharif family]," Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed.
Bokhari claimed that the letter by former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani that was submitted in the SC was "proven to be bogus" and therefore, the "story is now finished".
"Was the letter bogus or was the story around the letter bogus?" Justice Ejaz Afzal asked the lawyer, to which Bokhari replied that both were fabricated.
As the bench inquired about the sources of the Sharif family’s funds, the lawyer told the court that the JIT in its report stated that the assets of the ruling family and the finance minister exceeded their incomes.
Bokhari pointed out that according to the JIT report, the PM is the beneficial owner of the Saudi-based company Hill Metals Establishment and that the letter from the former Qatari PM was fake.
The SC judges inquired about the sources of the documents obtained by the JIT.
"Without knowing what the sources are, can we say that the documents are accurate?" asked Justice Ejaz Afzal, adding that it would have to be verified whether the documents from abroad were transferred to Pakistan through legal means.
Maryam and the four London flats
The trust deed of the four flats located in London’s upscale Park Lane neighbourhood, executed between Maryam Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz ─ the prime minister’s children ─ in February 2006, was found to be false by the JIT, Bokhari told the apex bench.
Salman Akram Raja, the counsel representing the prime minister's sons in the Panamagate case, had argued before the SC in February that bearer certificates of the flats had remained with Maryam between February and July 2006. However, they were cancelled upon execution of the trust deed and registered under Minerva Services Limited ─ an entity that appointed directors for the two offshore companies, Nielson Enterprises Ltd and Nescoll Ltd, that owned the four flats.
The JIT, however, found that the font used in the trust deed was not available in 2006 and declared the deed to be fabricated, Bokhari argued. “No trust deed was signed after the bearer certificates were cancelled,” he said. “The JIT has found Maryam to be the beneficial owner of the London flats.”
"What difference does it make that Maryam has been shown as the beneficial owner of the London flats?" Justice Ejaz Afzal questioned. "It will make a difference when it is proved that she is the prime minister's dependent."
Judges seek arguments, not “findings”
JI’s counsel Taufeeq Asif also highlighted the JIT report's findings, but the judges reminded him that they were already aware of the report’s contents, saying that he was required to present arguments.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan told Asif that the bench was not bound to implement the findings of the JIT. “You have to tell us why we should,” said the judge. “Tell us to what extent we can implement the suggestions of the JIT.”
“Questions of the prime minister being sadiq and ameen can now be raised, prima facie,” the judge added.
Sheikh Rashid, who also appeared before the bench, requested that the petitioners should be given time to respond to the objections submitted by the Sharif family and Ishaq Dar.
Judges direct PML-N lawyer to address “issues at hand”
Lawyer Khawaja Harris, representing the prime minister before the apex bench, said that two requests had been filed in relation to the JIT; the first asks for Volume X of the report to be made available, while the second contains objections to the report.
The application submitted by Harris on behalf of the prime minister states that withholding Volume X of the JIT report was a “malafide act” and requests that it be made available to the premier before the case proceeds. It claims that the “entire investigation was a farce” and that the JIT was “inherently biased and unfair to the respondents”, adding that there was no incriminating evidence against Nawaz in [the] whole report.
He argued that JIT had employed illegal means while collecting documents during the investigation. “The JIT exceeded its mandate and the documents that they have submitted [alongside their final report] cannot be seen as proof,” he said, requesting the court to dismiss the report.
“It will be easier if you limit your arguments to the issues at hand,” Justice Ejaz Afzal remarked. Harris will present the rest of his argument at the next hearing.
PML-N calls JIT report "incomplete"
Speaking to reporters outside the SC, PML-N's Daniyal Aziz claimed that the judges had raised questions about the JIT report. "These documents have now become questionable and the process has become suspicious due to certain factors, like the secret Vol 10 [of the report], and the MLA [citations] that have not been confirmed and are doubtful because they are not sourced according to the Qanoon-i-Shahadat order," he claimed.
The report is spread over 10 volumes, the last of which pertains to matters of international jurisdiction. "In all the rush, the report hasn't even been completed," Aziz claimed.
"It says 'ongoing' right in the middle. It seems they are hoping for more proof to surface overnight. Even Naeem Bokhari has said that their investigation is ongoing."
PML-N member Marriyum Aurangzeb spoke to the media after the hearing, saying, "The JIT report is not the SC's decision, and its recommendations are not binding upon the SC. The court acts according to Pakistan's law and Constitution."
Referring to the PM's request for access to Volume X of the JIT, she said, "Vol X is being hidden from the court [...] investigation is still ongoing in violation of the SC's order."
Demands for PM to step down
Prior to the hearing, opposition leaders, including Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid, arrived at the apex court and spoke to the media, reiterating their demand for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's resignation.
"Nawaz Sharif does not hold 'high moral ground' after the JIT report, which is why he should step down," Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Dr Farooq Sattar said. "PML-N has to decide what advice they will give to their leader, keeping in mind the interests of the country."
PML-N's legal strategy in light of the report that was submitted to the SC last week remained unclear till the hearings began on Monday.
The prime minister spent Sunday holding consultative meetings with his legal and political teams to frame the family’s stance and devise a strategy to counter political rivals.
Quoting Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, Dawn reported that Khawaja Harris, Akram Sheikh, Salman Akram Raja and Barrister Zafarullah are on the team representing various members of the ruling family.
In its immediate reaction to the report, the Sharif family and the ruling party dismissed the declarations made therein and the prime minister has refused all calls to step down.