The Supreme Court on Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office in a landmark decision on the Panama Papers case.
Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, who had headed the apex court's implementation bench following its April 20 order on the Panama Papers case, announced that the larger bench had unanimously deemed PM Sharif unfit for holding office and would also order an accountability court to open references against him and his family, and other respondents.
Shortly after the order, the PM House issued a notification saying that Nawaz Sharif, despite having "strong reservations" on the SC’s verdict, has stepped down from his post as the premier.
Reacting to the court's order, a PML-N spokesperson said that the party will utilise all legal and constitutional means to contest the verdict.
The judgement, announced shortly after 12pm, brings Sharif's third term in power to an unceremonious end, roughly one year before the scheduled general elections which would have seen him become the first Pakistani prime minister to complete a full five-year term. It is unclear at the moment who will be appointed to take over the post till the next general elections, which are scheduled for 2018.
Govt in limbo
The federal cabinet was dissolved after Nawaz Sharif relinquished his responsibilities as the prime minister of Pakistan.
As the head of the ruling PML-N, he will still be able to nominate his successor.
Sharif's chosen candidate will be put to a vote in the National Assembly — a rubber stamp affair as the PML-N holds a strong majority in the house.
His daughter, Maryam Nawaz, has frequently been touted as his political heir, but she does not currently hold elected office so cannot be a candidate this time around.
'Disqualified for being dishonest'
"The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) shall issue a notification disqualifying Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif from being a member of the Parliament with immediate effect, after which he shall cease to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan,” Justice Khan told the packed courtroom Friday afternoon.
The judges ruled that Nawaz had been dishonest to the parliament and the courts in not disclosing his employment in the Dubai-based Capital FZE company in his 2013 nomination papers, and thus, could not be deemed fit for his office.
"It is hereby declared that having failed to disclose his un-withdrawn receivables constituting assets from Capital FZE Jebel Ali, UAE in his nomination papers filed for the General Elections held in 2013 in terms of Section 12(2)(f) of the Representation of the People Act, 1976 (ROPA), and having furnished a false declaration under solemn affirmation respondent No. 1 Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is not honest in terms of Section 99(f) of ROPA and Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 and therefore he is disqualified to be a Member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)."
References in accountability courts
Justice Khan said that the bench had recommended that all material collected by the joint investigation team (JIT) tasked with probing the Sharif family's financial dealings be sent to an accountability court within six weeks.
The bench said that on the basis of this information, cases would be opened against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar; MNA Captain Muhammad Safdar; Maryam, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz; as well as the premier.
A judgement on these references should be announced within six months, he said. One judge will oversee the implementation of this order.
The references to be filed by NAB before the accountability court include:
References against Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Hussain Nawaz Sharif, Hassan Nawaz Sharif, and Capt Muhammad Safdar relating to the Avenfield properties in London, United Kingdom.
Reference against Nawaz Sharif, and Hussain and Hassan Nawaz regarding Azizia Steel Company and Hill Metal Establishment, along with other companies mentioned in paragraph 9 of the detailed judgement.
Reference against Ishaq Dar for possessing assets and funds beyond his known means of income.
Supplementary reference(s) if and when any other asset, which is not prima facie reasonably accounted for, is discovered.
A reference against him will also be opened for possessing assets and funds beyond his known sources of income.
Court appreciates JIT's efforts
The judges "commended and appreciated" the hard work and efforts made by members of the JIT in preparing and filing a comprehensive and detailed report.
"Their tenure of service shall be safeguarded and protected and no adverse action of any nature including transfer and posting shall be taken against them without informing the monitoring Judge of this Court nominated by the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan," reads the court order.
The lead up
The original five-member bench of the Supreme Court which heard the Panama Papers case — comprising Justices Asif Saeed Khosa, Ejaz Afzal Khan, Gulzar Ahmed, Sheikh Azmat Saeed, Ijazul Ahsan — announced the much-awaited verdict in Courtroom No. 1 shortly after 12pm.
According to media reports, the courtroom was filled to capacity as prominent politicians, lawyers and journalists crowded the room to hear the judges decide Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's fate.
The twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi were on high alert in anticipation of the SC verdict while the Red Zone was partially sealed.
Rangers and Frontier Constabulary personnel were deployed at the Supreme Court and the Red Zone to assist the police.
April 20 order and JIT investigation
The April 20 judgement issued by the larger bench in the Panama Papers case had been split 3-2 among the five judges, with two dissenting notes from Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Gulzar Ahmed. Justice Ejaz Afzal authored the majority opinion in the 540-page judgement.
The two judges who ruled against PM Nawaz Sharif had said he should be disqualified as he could not be considered 'honest' and 'truthful' (ameen and sadiq), whereas the other three were in favour of forming a joint investigation team (JIT) to definitively answer the question of whether the allegations against the prime minister were true or not.
The court had further said that: "upon receipt of the reports, periodic or final of the JIT, as the case may be, the matter of disqualification of respondent No. 1 [Nawaz Sharif] shall be considered. If found necessary for passing an appropriate order in this behalf, [Nawaz Sharif or any other person may be summoned and examined."
A special bench of the Supreme Court was subsequently constituted to examine the case under Section 184/3 of the Constitution. The bench comprised the three judges who had prevailed.
The Supreme Court had on May 6 formed the JIT, putting a senior officer of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in charge.
After considering the background and antecedents of the officer, FIA’s Additional Director General Wajid Zia, a grade 21 officer, was appointed head of the probe team.
Amer Aziz of the State Bank of Pakistan, Executive Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan Bilal Rasool, National Accountability Bureau Director Irfan Naeem Mangi, Brig Muhammad Nauman Saeed of Inter-Services Intelligence and Brig Kamran Khurshid of the Military Intelligence were appointed as the remaining members of the team.
The six-member JIT's damning report, submitted after a 60-day investigation that sought answers to 13 questions raised by the Supreme Court's larger bench, had maintained that Prime Minister’s family owned assets beyond its known sources of income. It declared that both Hussain and Hassan Nawaz were used as proxies to build family assets.
Consequently, the six-man JIT concluded that it was compelled to refer to sections 9(a)(v) and 14(c) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, which deal with corruption and corrupt practices, though such charges are yet to be proven in an accountability court.
The JIT report also highlighted Articles 122, 117, 129 and other sections of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order 1984 (Law of Evidence), which places the burden of disproving the allegations on the person facing accusations.
The JIT pointed out failure on the part of the Sharifs to produce the required information that would confirm their “known sources of income”, saying that prima facie, it amounted to saying that they were not able to reconcile their assets with their means of income.
The prime minister's daughter, Maryam Nawaz, had on the same evening issued a strongly-worded statement on behalf of the PML-N, saying:
"JIT report REJECTED. Every contradiction will not only be contested but decimated in SC. NOT a penny of public exchequer involved: PMLN."
Her tweet followed a press conference conducted by four senior PML-N leaders, who had taken turns to criticise the JIT report as 'serving Imran Khan's agenda'.
The Sharif family's legal team's strategy in subsequent hearings had focused on discrediting the report, the evidence collected and the means used to do so, and raising questions about the impartiality and capability of the six men who had comprised the JIT.
— Additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui and Javed Hussain
Correction: This story has been amended to reflect that Ishaq Dar and Capt Muhammad Safdar have not been disqualified from their membership of the National Assembly; rather the Supreme Court has only ordered separate references to be opened against both. The error is regretted.