ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday formally closed the Panama Papers case when it reserved its ruling, but the most significant facet of the hearing was an assurance on the part of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to resurrect the Hudaibya reference by a belated challenge to its quashment.
The second significant part of Friday’s hearing was the hint of invoking Section 12 (2 a and f) of the Representation of People Act, 1976, a provision under which the intending candidate in his nomination papers had to undertake fulfilling the qualifications under Article 62 of the Constitution and that he was not subject to any disqualification under Article 63. The matter exclusively falls within the domain of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The new aspect is in addition to the earlier perception that even if the Supreme Court may consider not treading into the domain of the disqualification of the prime minister, it will refer the entire material for initiation of corruption references against the accused by the NAB, commented a senior lawyer who watched the court proceedings.
• Hudaibya case to be resurrected, NAB assures apex court • Volume 10 of JIT report opened for perusal of defendants’ counsel
“Judgement is reserved,” observed Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan while wrapping up Friday’s hearing after listening patiently to a number of counsel for respondents as well as for petitioners.
On Friday the Supreme Court also summoned Volume 10 of the report submitted by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which was sealed earlier that contains details of mutual legal assistance (MLA) with different countries. The document was opened for the perusal of the prime minister’s counsel, Khawaja Haris, and Salman Akram Raja, who represents the children of Mr Sharif, only to remove confusion about certain communications between the JIT and Attorney General’s Chambers, Government of the British Virgin Islands. The document was taken back to the registrar’s office again by the court staff.
Additional Prosecutor General of NAB Akbar Tarar told the court that since the JIT during its 60-day inquiry had collected additional and fresh evidence into the allegation of amassing assets disproportionate to known sources of income, NAB was considering filing an appeal before the Supreme Court against the 2014 quashment by the Lahore High Court of the reference 5 of 2000 in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case. The reference was made against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar for money laundering worth over Rs1.2 billion by Mr Dar for the benefit of the prime minister.
Are you considering reopening of the reference, Justice Khan asked with an observation that thinking remained abstract till it was translated into action. Mr Tarar said the challenge would be made by NAB within a week’s time.
The high court on Dec 3, 2012, had quashed the reference through a unanimous judgement, but the judges disagreed with each other over permissibility of reinvestigation of the matter after which the same was referred to a referee judge who held on March 11, 2014, that reinvestigation of the case was not permissible.
Moreover, when senior counsel Naeem Bokhari, representing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, came to the rostrum and highlighted the new allegation gathered by the JIT that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had also served as the chairman of the Dubai-based Capital FZE but did not declare the same in his nomination papers, Justice Khan inquired whether not the matter fell within the domain of the ECP when the prime minister who was bound to disclose the information did not do so.
The payment or non-payment of the salary to the prime minister from the accounts of the company would have different impacts, observed Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed.
Mr Bokhari, however, argued that the JIT probe led to an inevitable conclusion that the prime minister was not honest and truthful not only to the Supreme Court but also to the nation as well as to the National Assembly.
The existence of the Capital FZE, its work permit as manager in favour of Mr Sharif and the information of being the chairman of its board and his entitlement to the salary had not been disclosed, the counsel emphasised, saying that by accepting employment the prime minister had violated his oath.
When Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan asked the counsel to refer to any specific restriction that the holder of public office could not continue his business, the counsel replied that it came under the conflict of interest.
Additional Attorney General Mohammad Waqar Rana, however, told the court that there was no such express opinion in the law in this regard.
Mr Bokhari argued that in his speech to parliament, the prime minister made a positive assertion that the Gulf Steel Mills was sold for UAE Dirham 33 million which later proved wrong because after meeting all the liabilities nothing had been left for the Sharifs to set up Azizia Steels in Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, there was no Rial 63 million when Azizia was liquidated besides no document was shown that the share of Rial 14m each of three heirs was not distributed among them.
The counsel said from 1993 to 96 the prime minister’s children — Maryam, Hussain and Hassan — were minors when four upscale Avenfield London flats were acquired, besides the emphasis that the patriarch Mian Sharif made all family decisions and ran the family businesses was not the stance taken during the earlier round. This was also not true that Hassan started his business in 2001 when the Azizia mills from which the money came to him was sold in 2005, he added.
Moreover, Hussain gifted over Rs1 billion to his father through the remittance from the Hill Metal Establishment (HME) in Saudi Arabia. If remittance from the son was not subject to tax in Pakistan it certainly did from HME because it was income from other sources.
He said 88 per cent of the profits of HME were coming to the prime minister then what was left to run the business. This was unbelievable, he said, adding that Saudi laws restricted movement of more than 25pc of the total profits of an entity.
Awami Muslim League’s chief Sheikh Rashid pleaded before the court to pardon the Sharifs if it decided not to disqualify them. Sending of a reference against them would be of no use since they had huge money and were in the habit of buying everything, he alleged.
Salman Akram Raja also removed the misconception that no law firm in London worked on Saturday and said the relationship between Hussain and his longtime retain solicitor Jeremy Box was such that he could even ask Mr Box to come home on holidays for official business work.
Dr Tariq Hassan, counsel for Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, also defended his client and brought a big carton with inscription “Senator Dar 34 years of tax record”. “Is the writing on the box for our consumption?” asked Justice Ahsan, adding that it should have been shown to the television cameras also.
The court concluded the hearing with an observation that it would preserve the fundamental rights of every party before it.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2017