• Judge assures counsel SC won’t prejudice accountability court hearings
  • Apex court expected to close proceedings today

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Thursday asked deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif to have trust in the court which had always come to his rescue in the past.

“There is no need to get apprehensive merely beca­use one decision has come against you,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed while addressing senior counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed, representing Mr Sharif.

A five-judge SC bench headed by Justice Khosa had taken up petitions moved by Mr Sharif and his family members seeking review of the court’s July 28 judgement in the Panama Papers case.

The Supreme Court, Justice Khosa observed, stood for everybody, big or small, when it came to constitutional and legal rights of the citizens. “Have no misconception; we are the defenders of the fundamental rights of the people.”

He said it was wrong to suggest that the apex court had become a complainant in the corruption references, adding that there would be no fetters on the jurisdiction of the trial court.

The observation came when Khawaja Haris expressed apprehension that his client might not get fair trial in the accountability court since everything in the corruption references against Nawaz Sharif and his children had been attributed to the Supreme Court.

“When I go to the trial court I will have to assail the manner the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) conducted inquiry against my client, which will be difficult due to the July 28 Supreme Court judgement that carries tags like ‘godfather’ against him and because everything in the reference had been attributed to the apex court,” the counsel said.

The Supreme Court also regretted viciousness on the part of Mr Haris’s client (Nawaz Sharif) and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in which the Supreme Court was the target. “What goes around comes around, therefore do not complain about it,” Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said in response to Advocate Shahid Hamid’s complaint about a lot of viciousness at his client (Ishaq Dar) in the media and the streets.

The Supreme Court is expected to close the proceedings on Friday (today) after listening to Advocate Salman Akram Raja, representing Mr Sharif’s children, since both Khawaja Haris and Shahid Hamid have concluded their arguments.

Mr Haris argued that he had every right to have a fair trial and raised objections to the credibility of the evidence procured against his client. He said the Supreme Court had described the JIT findings as honest while his client believed that no honest work had been done by them.

The court had to clarify these things in its order, the counsel argued and said the references had been formulated on the basis of allegations which were tentative in nature.

Justice Saeed assured the counsel that the court would not prejudice the trial and asked the latter to have trust in the court and not the streets.

“If the JIT report has some infirmity, you have the right to cross-examine the witnesses and JIT members and rest assured the July 28 judgement of the Supreme Court will not come in your way,” Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan told the counsel.

The same assurance was also given to Shahid Hamid when Justice Khan said none of the observations of the apex court would bind the trial court which would be free to take up the corruption references in a free manner.

Khawaja Haris requested the court to appoint a separate judge for monitoring the proceedings of the trial court since the one appointed as the supervisory judge was part of this bench.

The trial court should be given a free hand, he said, recalling that the apex court had been superintending or monitoring cases as evident from previous judgements, but these were general and not “person specific”.

Referring to the appointment of Nawaz Sharif as chairman of Capital FZE, Mr Haris explained that it was a ceremonial post his client had held in 2007 while in exile, adding that the omission to mention it in his nomination papers should not entail punishment as big as disqualification for life. It could have been dealt with by other forums under the Representation of People’s Act, where the election of his client could have been declared void, especially when no salary had ever been withdrawn.

At this, Justice Khan wondered how the court could conclude intention of not withdrawing the money when there was an agreement between the father and his son expressing in an unequivocal term that Mr Sharif would be entitled to 10,000 UAE dirhams. He also referred to Section 103 of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order which clearly stated that oral evidence was of no value in the presence of a written document.

“I am not denying the contract,” the counsel said and insisted that nothing had been withdrawn. The JIT had not produced anything on record to show that the money travelled to all disclosed bank accounts of Mr Sharif, he claimed.

But Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan reminded the counsel that Volume 9 of the JIT report suggested opening of an account of Capital FZE against the employee number of Mr Sharif and even a payment had been made in August 2013. He said the documents also showed that the wage had been received through OTC (over the counter).

But Justice Saeed intervened to clarify that the Supreme Court had already held that mere omission was enough to invoke Article 62(1)(f) on an Article 184(3) petition.

Justice Khan observed that the presence of the salary in the accounts, even though not withdrawn, would suffice to disqualify.

But the counsel argued that the OTC did not relate to Mr Sharif because there was no account which his client had not disclosed. If the money had gone into any of the accounts maintained by his client, it should have been reflected in it, he added.

Citing a number of cases, the counsel said he had not come across even a single case in which non-disclosure of assets entailed disqualification under Article 62(1)(f). He alleged that most of the documents procured by the JIT against his client were “source documents”.

But Justice Khan observed that the court had never accepted the JIT report as a ‘gospel truth’, and “you (counsel) will have every right to poke holes in the material against you”.

Since response from different countries in terms of mutual legal assistance (MLA) had not yet come, the JIT report was not complete and the references could not have been filed on incomplete findings, the counsel argued.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court also regretted the conduct of the National Accountability Bureau chairman which necessitated the appointment of monitoring judge to issue directives and supervise the bureau’s conduct in making the reference.

Justice Saeed observed that if the NAB chairman failed, did it mean that Pakistan or the Supreme Court should also fail along with him.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2017