A day after the Supreme Court (SC) pointedly inquired about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's money trail, the premier's counsel reiterated that his client had presented details of all his assets to the joint investigation team (JIT) that was mandated to probe allegations of money laundering against the Sharif family.
Senior counsel Khawaja Harris on Wednesday told the three-member apex bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, that the prime minister had provided details of all assets and sources of income in the form of tax returns.
“We will take a decision after looking at all the evidence,” Justice Ejaz Afzal told Harris as he completed his arguments before the bench. “Bring the [money trail] record and the discussion on the documents will end.”
Ishaq Dar’s lawyer begins arguments
“Have you also brought a Qatari letter with you?” Justice Azmat Saeed asked Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's lawyer, Tariq Hasan, as he began his arguments before the bench.
The lawyer's defence bore similarities to the arguments presented by Harris, as he told the court that the JIT had exceeded its mandate. An objection to the JIT’s report was included in the documents submitted to the apex court on Dar’s behalf on Monday.
“If you have so many objections, you should go to the trial court,” Justice Azmat Saeed remarked.
Hasan alleged that Dar had been "dragged" into the case by the JIT and did not actually have any direct involvement, to which Justice Ijazul Ahsan replied, “I can tell you Ishaq Dar’s connection to this case.” The name of the finance minister's nephew is included in the transactions relating to the Gulf Steel Mills, the judge elaborated, adding that money from the Hill Metal Establishment was transferred to the minister’s son, Ali Dar.
The judges quizzed the lawyer on his statement that the JIT had been “dishonest” in its investigations and hadn’t reviewed the submitted documents. “You had said that you did not submit any documents, yet you’re giving these statements,” said Justice Ijazul Ahsan, asking the lawyer to submit further documents at the next hearing (Thursday).
Dar's confession in Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference
Echoing the objection by the PM's lawyer, Hasan said that the JIT did not have the mandate to recommend reopening cases.
Referring to the Hudaibiya Paper Mills reference, Justice Azmat Saeed pointed out that Ishaq Dar had refused to accept his confessional statement in the reference that was recorded before a district magistrate in Lahore on April 25, 2000, as his own. In the statement, Dar had reportedly admitted to money laundering of $14.86 million, and opening two bank accounts under the names of Sikandar Masood Qazi and Talat Masood Qazi for Nawaz Sharif's brother.
During the initial Panamagate case hearing, Dar and his lawyers had maintained that the statement was “written under duress.” Speaking to the media after his appearance before the JIT, Dar had said that the statement was not written by him.
“If the confessional statement is deemed false, than the pardon [in the case] will also be unacceptable,” said the judge.
Sharif family's foreign properties
During his arguments on Wednesday morning, Harris said that according to the laws of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), "an individual cannot be held accountable for the properties and assets that are in the name of his wife and children." He added that the PM's relatives had also not concealed any assets.
In reference to the judges' observation that the PM had remained evasive in answering the questions put forward by the JIT, Harris responded that the team had not inquired about any other properties, maintaining that his client had not concealed any assets, nor did he own any benami properties.
“The real question is where did the money for [the Sharif family’s] properties in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and London come from?”Justice Ijazul Ahsan remarked. “We have not yet received an answer to this fundamental question.”
The judges told the lawyer that Chapter Four (Gulf Steel Mills/Gifts) of the JIT’s report contains “dangerous” documents and talks about the trust deed of the four Avenfield flats in London’s Park Lane neighbourhood, executed between Maryam Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz in February 2006, which was declared false by the JIT in its report over.
Harris told the bench that the PM, when asked about the trust deed by the JIT, had acknowledged that he was aware of the settlement, but did not know the details. He added that his client can only be held accountable for the properties under his name, maintaining that the PM has no connection to the London flats.
“Are there any records available with Hassan and Hussain Nawaz that can prove that the PM does not have any connection with the London flats?” asked Justice Ejaz Afzal.
If Hussain is the beneficial owner of the flats, then proof for the same should be provided, he remarked, noting that in the documents received by the court, Maryam Nawaz is shown as the beneficial owner.
“The connection between the PM and the London flats is based on speculation. There are no documents available to prove this,” the lawyer said.
“Why do you keep insisting that all the records are available?” Justice Ijazul Ahsan asked the lawyer, directing him to show the documents relating to the agreement signed with Minerva Financial Services Limited ─ the holding company for Nescoll Limited and Nielson Enterprises Limited, the owners of the four London flats ─ to ascertain who signed them.
'Where is the money trail?'
During Tuesday's hearing, the apex bench had asked about the PM's money trail, saying, "We've been waiting for it since day one." The prime minister and his family members had remained evasive in answering the questions put forward by the JIT, added the judges.
The bench had reminded the PM's lawyer that the onus of establishing a money trail after claiming ownership of the Avenfield flats was on the Sharif family, adding that the money trail of the flats "remained shrouded in mystery — even to this day."
The apex bench had also asked the 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.
Harris had argued that the JIT had exceeded its mandate by recommending the SC to reopen 15 cases against his client. He also questioned the authenticity of the documents obtained from the UK and the UAE that were included in the JIT's report.
The bench 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.
Presenting his statement before the bench on Monday, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) 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.