ISLAMABAD: The counsel for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday tried to draw a distinction between owning an asset and deriving benefits from it, maintaining that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had not accused his client of abusing his authority or committing corruption.
“The court has to be very cautious while deciding the matter, since whatever we are saying against the prime minister is based on inferences drawn on the basis of circumstantial evidence,” senior counsel Khawaja Harris Ahmed told a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan.
Referring to Section 9(a)(v) of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, Khawaja Harris tried to establish that only those public office-holders could be held as having committed corruption if he or any of his dependents or benamidars owned or possessed pecuniary resources disproportionate to their known sources of income.
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But a person deriving benefits from such an asset, enjoying or managing it could not be declared corrupt, the counsel argued.
Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, however, inquired whether it was possible that the person enjoying or benefiting from an asset was, in fact, the benami owner.
Justice Khan noted that the court was aware of the definitions and concepts, since it had been hearing the matter for several days.
He also reminded the counsel that the real issue was the source of funds for the four upscale Avenfield apartments, which had surfaced in 1993, when the PM’s children did not have the means to acquire them.
But the counsel stressed that in its report, the JIT did not provide any document or witness to establish that PM Sharif was the actual owner of the London apartments, or that any other person — including his children — held these properties on his behalf.
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The JIT only stated that the four London flats belonged to the entire Sharif family and that as head of the family, Mian Mohammad Sharif — the PM’s father — ran the entire family business.
Justice Khan, however, reminded the counsel that in the Al-Towfeek case, the name of Maryam Nawaz Sharif — the daughter of the prime minister — did figure.
But the counsel clarified that there were several shareholders in the Hudabiya Paper Mills Ltd — which was the subject matter of Al-Towfeek case — including Mian Sharif, his children and his grandchildren, but he retained control of all its affairs and the prime minister could not be held responsible for that.
Justice Ahsan also reminded the counsel that ownership details of these apartments surfaced when a decree was passed in the year 2000 in the Al-Towfeek case. He was quick to add, though, that the fundamental questions still were: who was holding these properties, where did the funds to acquire these apartments come from and where was the money trail.
In his speech to parliament, PM Sharif had made a specific statement that answers to these questions would be provided whenever called for, but these questions had still not been answered, Justice Ahsan observed.
To this, Khawaja Harris retorted that while he didn’t deny what the prime minister had stated, the flats certainly did not belong to him.
They were owned by the entire family, he maintained, adding that the prime minister was not personally linked to the family business, and that was completely overseen by Mian Sharif.
Even though he had conceded that he stayed there several times since 1993, PM Sharif could not be held responsible for these properties, the counsel said.
Justice Khan also asked the counsel whether there was any document to show that the children did not hold these properties on behalf of the prime minister, while Justice Saeed observed that there was no document to show who was the owner of the flats.
Justice Ahsan lamented that when Hussain Nawaz was called by the JIT, he never provided any document to prove ownership of the offshore companies Nescoll and Nielson.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept that these properties belong to Mian Sharif, some share must have come to the prime minister in the form of inheritance once he had passed away.
But Khawaja Harris maintained that the prime minister’s name had never figured in connection with the Gulf Steel Mills, Nescoll or Nielson, or even in relation to the Qatari investment. These things were explained to the JIT and if there was any discrepancy, investigators should have confronted the Sharif family with it.
Meanwhile, Advocate Salman Akram Raja, who represents the PM’s children, said that he would submit certain documents acquired from Abu Dhabi customs to show that scrap and machinery from the Gulf Steel Mills did move from Dubai after its liquidation.
The documents, which were also shown by TV channels on Wednesday night, include an invoice from Ahli Steel Company detailing the shipment of dismantled rolling mill equipment from the Al-Azizia Steel Company.
In addition, there are two documents from JPCA Ltd, an accountancy firm, dealing with the ownership of Nescoll and Neilsen, as well as a document from Minerva, the holding firm for both companies.
Also included is an agreement between Tariq Shafi – the PM’s cousin – and Mohammad Abdullah Ahli for the sale of his 25pc shares in Ahli Steel.
Dr Tariq Hassan, appearing on behalf of Ishaq Dar, was told by the court to submit documents instead of a summary to establish the minister did file income tax returns between 1981-82 and 2001-02, as well as wealth tax returns from 1985 to 2007.
The court was not happy with the assertion that the FBR could not provide these returns to the JIT because the record had been taken away by NAB and asked for some documents showing the handing over and taking over of these documents.
Justice Ahsan said that if his client was looking for a shortcut, it would not be granted at this stage and he would have the opportunity to redress his grievance at an appropriate trial court.
The court also reminded the counsel that if Mr Dar’s confessional statement in the Hudabiya case was considered withdrawn, his status as co-accused would be restored and the pardon granted to him would be considered withdrawn.
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2017