As Salman Akram Raja, the lawyer representing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's children in the Panamagate case, began his arguments before the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday, the judges expressed their displeasure over the “media trial” being conducted outside the court.
A three-member bench of the SC, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal and comprising Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, has been holding the proceedings since Monday following the submission of the joint investigation team's (JIT) report. Lawyer Salman Akram Raja is representing Maryam, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz in the case.
“You’ve been conducting a trial in the media — all the documents [submitted to the court] have already been discussed in the media," remarked Justice Saeed. “There’s a media dais outside, you should give your arguments there as well.”
The counsel, however, told the court that he had not given any documents to the media.
During the proceedings, Justice Ejaz Afzal warned the lawyer that if the PM's children fail to provide the money trail, Nawaz Sharif would have to suffer the consequences since he holds a public office. “We will be forced to take a decision against the PM [in such circumstances].”
The judges questioned the authenticity of the documents submitted in court, pointing to the deed for the four London flats.
Turning to Additional Attorney General (AAG) Rana Waqar, who was also present in court, the judges inquired about the consequences of submitting fake documents in the SC. “A case would be registered and the punishment could be imprisonment up to seven years but parties can clear their position,” said AAG Waqar.
“According to the JIT report, the font used in the deed [for the London flats] was not commercially available until 2007 while the trust deed was prepared in 2006 — how were fake documents submitted in the court?” asked the irked judges.
The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow (Friday) when Raja will continue his arguments.
Raja had objected to the JIT's conclusion that recording Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani’s statement was unnecessary, urging the court that "there should be a complete inquiry into the matter".
The judges, however, dismissed further investigations into the case, saying that since the JIT had completed its work, the documents [relating to the two Qatari letters] had been sent to the registrar. "The court’s decision will be based on the documents,” the bench maintained.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan remarked: "The [former] Qatari [prime minister] was your star witness and it was your responsibility to produce him before the court."
Justice Azmat Saeed pointed out that Al Thani was asked to appear before the court in Pakistan or record his statement at the Pakistan Embassy in Doha, but he declined both options. “Are we all supposed to go to Doha?” he asked.
“Show [us the] the law firm's account [that carried out the transaction] and the money trail will be evident,” added Justice Ahsan. “This is not Panama or Africa, it’s England — all the records will be available.”
“We have been asking you about the funds for the London flats for more than a year, but you haven't been able to give any answer,” said Justice Ejaz Afzal.
The lawyer said Al Thani could answer the question of the missing records, to which the judge replied, “The Qatari prince has refused to answer even via video link.”
An official letter from Sheikh Al Thani addressed to the JIT — dated July 17, 2017 — was also submitted in court, in which the former Qatari prime minister verified that he had not "received any confirmation yet" from the JIT regarding his appearance before "any court of law [in Pakistan] or tribunal for any purpose whatsoever."
The former Qatari prime minister added that upon receiving such confirmation, he would propose a meeting in Doha in the coming week with the JIT "to confirm the veracity of [his] previous two statements."
The Qatari letters submitted before the SC in the Panamagate case were the mainstay of the defence mounted by the prime minister’s son, Hussain Nawaz, who claimed that the London properties were handed over to the Sharif family by the Al Thanis under a settlement.
Additional documents given as evidence
Raja submitted further documents on behalf of his clients before the SC, including one acquired from Abu Dhabi customs to show that scrap and machinery from the Gulf Steel Mills did move from Dubai after its liquidation, and an invoice from Ahli Steel Company verifying the shipment of dismantled rolling mill equipment from the Al-Azizia Steel Company.
The lawyer also presented a document from JPCA Ltd, an accountancy firm, dealing with the ownership of Nescoll and Neilsen, as well as papers from Minerva Financial Services Limited, the holding firm for both companies. One of the documents given to the court, confirming an agreement between PM’s cousin Tariq Shafi and Mohammad Abdullah Ahli for the sale of his 25pc shares in Ahli Steel, had been shown by TV channels on Wednesday night.
'Show us the money trail'
A day earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister's lawyer, Khawaja Harris, had concluded his arguments before the bench trying to draw a distinction between owning an asset and deriving benefits from it. He maintained that the JIT had not accused his client of abusing his authority or committing corruption.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's lawyer, Tariq Hassan, had also presented arguments before the bench. He was told by the court to submit documents instead of a summary to establish that the minister had filed income tax returns between 1981-82 and 2001-02, as well as wealth tax returns from 1985 to 2007.
The judges 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.
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.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) lead counsel Naeem Bokhari was the first one to present arguments. He had requested that PM Nawaz Sharif should be asked to come to court for questioning. During his arguments, Bokhari highlighted several findings of the JIT report that he said "incriminate" the Sharif family.