Yet another prime minister comes to grief

29 Jul 2017

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JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman shares a light moment with PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif, Raja Zafarul Haq and Rafiq Rajwana during a meeting after the prime minister was disqualified by the Supreme Court on Friday.—INP
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman shares a light moment with PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif, Raja Zafarul Haq and Rafiq Rajwana during a meeting after the prime minister was disqualified by the Supreme Court on Friday.—INP

• In a stunning verdict, SC disqualifies PM for not declaring income from UAE-based Capital FZE to ECP
• NAB given six weeks to file references against PM’s children, Dar and Capt Safdar
• Probe ordered into 16 Sharif family companies

ISLAMABAD: The all-powerful Sharif family, which has ruled the country for the past several decades, suffered a major setback on Friday after the Supreme Court declared that thrice-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was “not honest” and disqualified him as a member of parliament.

A five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa disqualified the prime minister, not on corruption allegations or the issues highlighted by the petitioners in the Panama Papers case, but on the basis of new evidence unearthed by a specially constituted Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

The unanimous verdict centred round the discovery that the erstwhile prime minister was chairman of the board of Capital FZE, a UAE-based company, and had receivables in the form of a salary from that company, which constituted assets — a fact he failed to disclose in his nomination papers for the 2013 general elections.

In line with the court’s directions, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was quick to de-notify Mr Sharif as a member of the National Assembly from NA-120 (Lahore-III).

To keep the system intact, the court also asked Presi­dent Mamnoon Hussain to take all necessary steps under the Constitution to ensure the continuation of the democratic process.

In addition to disqualifying the prime minister, the apex court gave the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) six weeks to move a number of corruption references against members of the Sharif family before the Rawalpindi accountability court.

Those who will have cases filed against them include Mr Sharif’s three children — Maryam, Hussain and Hassan Nawaz — his son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar and ex-finance minister Ishaq Dar.

After receiving the references, the accountability court will have six months to decide the cases. A judge of the Supreme Court, to be nominated by the chief justice, will supervise and monitor proceedings before the accountability court.

Moment of truth

Courtroom No. 1, where Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar was holding his court, was packed to capacity on Friday morning ahead of the long-awaited verdict.

The room had already begun to fill with Pakistan Tehreek-i-insaf (PTI) leaders, and supporters, lawyers and mediapersons long be­fore the scheduled ann­oun­cement of the Pana­magate verdict at 11:30am.

The over-crowding was noticed by the chief justice, who, before retiring to his chambers, observed that he was handing over the court to another bench but could feel commotion in the courtroom.

The judgement was announced by the original five-judge bench which heard the Panama Papers case — Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.

There was complete silence in the crowded courtroom, but the room began to buzz with anticipation as the bench inched closed to the part of the judgement dealing with the disqualification of the prime minister.

Justice Khosa and Justice Ahmed, who had already opined that the PM stood disqualified, were not part of the bench that heard the JIT report, where the issue of Capital FZE surfaced.

The judgement was first announced by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, after which Justice Khosa delivered the order of the court, signed by all five judges.

The verdict

The judgement declared the prime minister “not honest” under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, and disqualified him for furnishing a false declaration under solemn oath and having failed to disclose his receivables, constituting assets from Capital FZE, in his nomination papers in terms of Section 12(2)(f) of the Representation of People Act (Ropa) 1976

The court asked NAB to move references against the prime minister, his children and others on the basis of the material collected by the JIT, as well as other material that may be available with the bureau or the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), “having any nexus with assets or subsequently become available”, including material that may come in response to mutual legal assistance requests, sent by the JIT to different countries.

The first reference will be filed for possessing the four Avenfield House properties in London, whereas two more references will be filed against Nawaz Sharif and his sons for creating the Azizia Steel Company and Hill Metal Establishment, as well as for setting up Flagship Investment Ltd, Hartstone Properties Ltd, Que Holdings Ltd, Quint Eaton Place 2 Ltd, Quint Saloane Ltd, Quaint Ltd, Flagship Securities Ltd, Quint Gloucestor Place Ltd, Quint Paddington Ltd, Flagship Developments Ltd, Alanna Services Ltd, Lankin SA (BVI), Chadron Inc, Ansbacher Inc, Coomber Inc and Capital FZE (Dubai).

Ishaq Dar will also face a reference for possessing assets beyond his known sources of income.

The court has also ordered NAB to include Sheikh Saeed, Musa Ghani, Kashif Masood Qazi, Javaid Kiyani and Saeed Ahmed in the references, as well as individuals who have any direct or indirect connection with the actions of the Sharif family.

NAB can also file supplementary references if and when any other asset, which is not prima facie reasonably accounted for, is discovered, the order said.

In case the accountability court finds any deed, document or affidavit filed by the respondents to be fake, false, forged or fabricated, it should take appropriate action against the concerned person in accordance with the law.

The court also appreciated the hard work and efforts of JIT members and their ancillary staff in preparing the comprehensive report. The judgement also directed that the tenure of JIT members be protected and no adverse action be taken against them without informing the monitoring judge of the Supreme Court.

Legal opinions

The verdict drew a mixed reaction from the legal community.

“As a political worker, I feel that today’s verdict was not very encouraging and may not go a long way in strengthening democracy,” regretted former judge Shafqat Abbasi.

He said that though justice should be served, not a single prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history had ever completed his constitutional term. “Sharif is the second prime minister to be sent home by the apex court after Yousuf Raza Gilani,” he deplored.

Advocate Asad Raheem, who was a member of the legal team which represented the federation in the Panama Papers case, said that after the Maulvi Tameezuddin case of 1954, this was the most consequential.

But Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Ahsan Bhoon welcomed the decision, declaring it historic and one that would contribute to the strengthening of the democratic system, freeing it from malpractice and corruption.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2017