SC rejects challenges to Sharif’s ouster

September 16, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has rejected the petitions seeking the review of its July 28 judgement that disqualified Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in the Panama Papers case, ending the 17-month-long controversy which surfaced on April 3 last year when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists leaked information about offshore entities of the Sharif family.

“For the reasons to be recorded later all these review petitions are dismissed,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa announced on Friday after a brief recess for deliberations and three-day consecutive hearings.

Justice Khosa — who headed a five-judge larger bench that took up the review petitions filed by Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam, sons Hussain and Hassan, son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — pronounced the verdict in an almost empty Courtroom No 1 — the same court hall where finding space even to stand on July 28 was an uphill task.

• All eyes now on separate five-judge bench determining time period of disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of Constitution • Top NAB lawyer assures apex court an appeal for reopening Hudaibya Paper Mills reference will be filed

Justice Khosa had led the larger bench that disqualified Nawaz Sharif for not being Sadiq and Ameen. Incidentally, July 28 also fell on Friday.

The rejection of the review petitions came days ahead of the electoral battle between Mr Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Yasmin Rashid in NA-120 — a constituency in Lahore which fell vacant after Mr Sharif’s disqualification.

“Sunday’s by-election will tell whether or not the decision on the review petitions has affected its results,” said a legal observer.

With the rejection of the review petitions, the disqualification of the former prime minister has become permanent until the time a separate five-judge bench already seized with a number of petitions finally determines the time period or perpetuity of the disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution.

The Sharifs, who are facing corruption references before Islamabad’s accountability court that has summoned them on Sept 19, will now have to seriously strategise how to counter the allegations levelled against them in the trial court.

“The scope of the review petitions is always very narrow and they seldom succeed,” said Advocate Salman Akram Raja, who represented Mr Sharif’s children, while talking to reporters soon after the announcement of the verdict.

“We thought we made out a strong case on disqualification and Capital FZE, but we will see on which grounds the apex court dismissed our petitions,” he added.

Advocate Fawad Chaudhry, who is a spokesperson for the PTI, said it was obvious that the Supreme Court was not inclined to alter its July 28 verdict as it had not issued any notice to his party in the review petitions.

The purpose of moving the review petitions, he explained, was to undo the ousted PM’s lifelong disqualification and to get a favourable order against the appointment of a supervisory judge of the Supreme Court to monitor proceedings in the trial court. But before handing down the verdict, the Supreme Court was very much conscious of the failure of the institutions like that of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to perform their statutory function, he said.

On Friday, the Supreme Court also disposed of a separate petition filed by Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed after NAB Prosecutor General Waqas Qadeer Dar assured the court that the bureau would move an appeal for reopening the Hudaibya Paper Mills reference.

On July 21, NAB’s Additional Prosecutor General Akbar Tarar had informed a three-judge SC implementation bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan that since the Joint Investigation Team had during its 60-day inquiry collected additional and fresh evidence about the allegation against the Sharifs of amassing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income, the bureau was considering filing an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court’s 2014 decision of quashing the Rs1.2 billion Hudaibya reference.

The high court had on Dec 3, 2012 quashed the reference through a unanimous judgement, but the judges disagreed with each other over the permissibility of reinvestigation into the matter. The case was, therefore, referred to a referee judge who held on March 11, 2014 that the reinvestigation was not permissible.

In his petition, Sheikh Rashid had sought contempt proceedings against NAB for reneging on its commitment of filing the appeal against the 2014 LHC decision of quashing the Hudaibya reference filed against Nawaz Sharif and Ishaq Dar. The finance minister is accused of laundering the money for the benefit of the former prime minister.

In its order, the Supreme Court said the NAB prosecutor general had entered appearance to state in categorical terms that NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry had approved the filing of the appeal on Sept 14 against the LHC judgement.

He also informed the court that the NAB chairman had directed him to file the appeal and undertook that the requisite appeal would be filed in the apex court within the next seven days without fail.

In view of the information, Sheikh Rashid did not press for his application, though he said the Hudaibya case was the mother of all corruption. In his brief arguments before the Supreme Court, he also cited the Kishwar Sultana case in which the high court had held that an undertaken given by a party had the same force as the injunction granted by a court. Such an undertaken, he said, then became binding on the party to fulfil the same, otherwise the party would face contempt.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2017