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PM’s choice in Panamagate case: SC verdict or NAB court

Updated July 19, 2017
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on June 9.— AFP/File
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on June 9.— AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s counsel point-blank whether the judges should form their own opinion over the concealment of facts by his client or refer the matter to an accountability court.

Legal experts believe that by making up their own mind, the top court could be moving towards the possibility of disqualifying the prime minister by invoking Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

In its April 20 judgement, a five-judge Supreme Court bench had held that after receiving the findings of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the matter of the prime minister’s disqualification would be considered.

On Tuesday, a three-judge bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan also explained the need for appointing the six-man JIT. It was meant to give the prime minister and his family another opportunity to vindicate their position, since the onus of establishing a money trail after claiming ownership of the London flats was on them.

Apex court terms JIT report akin to investigating officer’s account; judges regret Sharifs’ inability to vindicate themselves

Things could have been cleared up and the entire controversy laid to rest had the Sharifs brought the necessary documents, since the current case revolved around assets disproportionate to known sources of income, observed Justice Khan.

See: Nawaz Sharif nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

The judge also emphasised that the JIT report was like the findings of an investigating officer and would not necessarily become the basis of the court’s judgement.

The bench was hearing senior counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed who lamented that the probe team exceeded its mandate by proposing to reopen certain cases that were earlier quashed and forming an opinion on documents without confronting his client.

The importance of the Panamagate proceedings could be judged from the fact that Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah and Pakistan Peoples Party’s Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira also attended Tuesday’s proceedings.

However, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, who earlier never missed a hearing of the case, was conspicuous by his second consecutive absence from an otherwise packed Courtroom No 2.

Since the apex court was not recording evidence, Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed, the idea of constituting a JIT was meant to give another opportunity to the respondents to furnish the required documents without any impediment and satisfy the probe team.

But the judge deplored that the money trail of the four Avenfield flats remained shrouded in mystery — even to this day.

Justice Ahsan also explained that the JIT had only made certain recommendations and did not pass any order, since this was the apex court’s job.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said the court was not closing its doors to the respondents and was inclined to hear them, even if they had to summon the prime minister to explain his position on the apartments.

Referring to the assertions that the defendants were not confronted with the documents, Justice Ahsan recalled that the prime minister's family members were summoned several times and asked about the properties.

But all of them were evasive and either said they did not know or could not recollect, and did not produce a single document to answer the questions.

Ample opportunity was provided to show the money trail that led to the acquisition of the flats, Justice Ahsan lamented, adding that when the prime minister was asked about his speech in parliament, he replied that while the record was available, he was not sure and might have provided it to the National Assembly speaker.

Referring to the PM’s May 16, 2016 speech, the judge regretted that they didn’t expect the prime minister to make a categorical statement before parliament, but not provide anything subsequently.

The entire interrogation of the prime minister was replete with such answers, Justice Ahsan said, recalling that PM Sharif had even stated that he might not have seen the Qatari letter.

Everybody knew that the Sharifs were a closely-knit family, yet no member of the family knew about the Avenfield flats, Justice Ahsan said, adding that these apartments were acquired when the children did not have any sources of income, yet they lived there since 1993.

About the Capital FZE, an offshore company in UAE, Khawaja Haris conceded that Hassan Nawaz — the son of the prime minister — was the owner of the company. He claimed that though the prime minister was the designated chairman of the board, he did not draw any salary.

But Justice Ahsan reminded the counsel that the aqama, or the residence permit, was issued to the prime minister on the basis of his position as chairman of the company’s board.

The court will resume hearing the case today (Wednesday).

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2017