Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's senior counsel Khawaja Harris on Tuesday resumed his arguments in the Panamagate case before a three-member Supreme Court bench, objecting to the findings of the joint investigation team's (JIT) report, which he called "unreliable" and "misleading".
The bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, had resumed the Panamagate case on Monday, nearly three months after ordering the formation of a JIT to investigate the allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family.
During the lawyer's arguments, Justice Ijazul Ahsan remarked that the PM, despite being given the opportunity, did not “give us anything”.
“He [Nawaz Sharif] was asked about his speech, but he did not answer [...] when he was asked about the London flats, he said that he did not know," said the judge.
"Don't accept, don't reveal — that seems to be the thinking,” Justice Ahsan remarked.
Harris, however, clarified to the court that the documents submitted on behalf of the Sharif family on Monday were based on legal objections. “The JIT’s opinion does not have a legal holding,” he insisted.
Justice Ejaz Afzal replied that the judges will not look at the JIT’s opinion, but instead take into consideration the contents of the report.
“After reviewing the report and looking over the evidence, we will decide whether the case should be transferred to the National Accountability Bureau or if the SC will make a decision regarding the disqualification of the PM,” Justice Ahsan said.
Harris, however, maintained that a transparent trial could not be conducted on the basis of the report.
The court adjourned the hearing until tomorrow (Wednesday), when the PM's legal team will continue to present its arguments.
Harris maintained that the prime minister was detached from all family businesses and did not participate in the family’s property distribution in 2007.
The PM was involved in the business only until 1985, said Harris, adding that if there were any assets other than the ones declared in the PM’s tax returns, he [the PM] would answer all questions regarding them.
“The Sharif family is very close, the whole family knew everything,” retorted Justice Ejaz Afzal. “The prime minister often visited the London flats, yet he did not know who they belonged to?” he asked.
“If you have objections to the JIT's report, then you also have to present evidence against it,” Justice Azmat Saeed told the lawyer.
“We have been waiting for the money trail and the sources of income [to be revealed] since day one,” added Justice Ejaz Afzal.
The JIT was formed so that the PM and other parties in the case could give their testimonies with complete freedom, and have the opportunity to come clean. “We thought everyone would present their positions,” said Justice Ahsan.
In his address to the nation on May 16, 2016, the PM said that a complete record of all sources of income and assets was available, but the same was not provided to the JIT. “You have taken the burden of proof upon yourself,” Justice Ijazul Ahsan reminded Harris.
“The prime minister should have submitted the documents to the JIT, if not to the court. He had the opportunity to do so over the course of 60 days [while the JIT was in motion],” noted Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
Authenticity of foreign documents in JIT report
The PM’s lawyer objected to the documents that the JIT included in its report, some of which were obtained from the UK and UAE, saying that the documents had not been verified by any foreign government and therefore, were not authentic. “According to the law, the documents can only be transferred via the foreign country's government,” said the lawyer.
He added that verification was particularly important if the documents were obtained from a private firm in a foreign country.
“Can documents obtained from sources other than the foreign governments be rejected?” asked Justice Ejaz Afzal.
“It will have to be seen if the documents [were obtained by the JIT] in accordance with Qanoon-i-Shahadat (Law of Evidence),” said Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
Hudaibiya Paper Mills
Harris argued that the JIT did not have the mandate to recommend reopening cases, yet, in its final report, the team had recommended to reopen 15 cases against the PM. Among the 15 cases are five that have already been decided by the Lahore High Court (LHC). “The JIT has mentioned cases that have already been quashed; the LHC decided upon the Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference as well,” Harris asserted.
“Are you saying that the Hudaibiya case cannot be reopened?” questioned Justice Ejaz Afzal. The lawyer, in response, said that it did not have any connection to the Sharifs' flats in London’s upscale Park Lane neighborhood, which were under scrutiny.
“Are you saying that the cases that have been closed cannot be rechecked on the basis of the questions?” asked Justice Ejaz Afzal, referring to the 13 questions asked by the JIT.
The lawyer told the court that the JIT had exceeded its mandate and asked “15 questions instead of 13”.
“The court wants to see the answers to the questions it had put forward,” Justice Azmat Saeed remarked. “Whether or not the Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference is to be included in this case will have to be decided by a trial court,” said Justice Ejaz Afzal. “All cases are heavily connected with each other.”
Outside the court
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) lead counsel Naeem Bokhari, speaking outside the court on Tuesday, said that the party "respects the SC and will accept its decision".
The party changed its initial stance ─ calling for the PM's resignation for the duration of the JIT probe ─ and said that it would wait for the apex court's verdict before giving a call for agitation to pressure the PM to resign.
PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry was of the opinion that making Volume X of the JIT report public ─ as demanded by the PM's legal team ─ would be like opening a fresh can of worms for the prime minister and his family.
"The PM and his team should open Volume X," he said. "They said that Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests were made [for Volume X]; it will become clear why they were made." Additional properties and businesses will be discovered in London, Switzerland and other countries, he claimed.
He alleged that there had been no denial from the PML-N's legal team regarding the Calibri font controversy.
"All their objections are flimsy and their only purpose is to delay the trial. They have a team of five or six lawyers because they have the money, so when one [lawyer] ends his arguments, the other one begins his. It is about dragging the trial," Chaudhry alleged.
A day earlier
On Monday, Harris submitted documents on behalf of his client and his family containing objections to the final report of the JIT, asking the SC to throw out the report.
The legal team of the Sharif family raised questions about the allegiances of the JIT investigators, their conduct, the way the evidence was collected and the report’s findings. The JIT was also accused of exceeding its mandate and a request was made to make Volume X of the report available to the prime minister.
Presenting his statement before the bench, PTI's lead counsel Naeem Bokhari had requested that PM Nawaz Sharif should be asked to come to the court for questioning. During his arguments, Bokhari highlighted several findings of the JIT report that he said "incriminate" the Sharif family.