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ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge on Monday observed that while Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen were providing evidence in response to the court’s questions, the respondents in the Panama Papers case had not been as forthcoming, forcing the court to form a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to ascertain the facts.

The observation came during the hearing of the petition filed by local Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hanif Abbasi, seeking the disqualification of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen.

The counsel for Mr Abbasi on Monday invited the attention of the court to what he termed “a perception” that this case was not being heard like the Panama Papers case was.

“A perception is being created that the court is providing opportunities to the other side to come up with more documents, even though the case has been closed now,” senior counsel Mohammad Akram Sheikh regretted.

But Justice Umar Ata Bandial — a member of the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar — compared the Hanif Abbasi case with the Panama Papers case, saying that these cases were inquisitorial in nature. The court had asked many questions from the respondents and in response, they had provided several documents.

Court warns Naeem Bokhari not to rely on unauthenticated documents, tells Akram Sheikh not to compare case with Panamagate

In the Panama Papers case, the judge observed, the bench also asked several questions but eventually had to refer the matter to the JIT because no response was forthcoming.

He added that the Panama Papers case would not be of much help to the counsel. “The Panama Papers case is now the law of the land,” Mr Sheikh shot back, reques­ting the court to guide him to the documents he should argue over.

However, the chief justice observed that the court had deliberately kept the matter open, since it wanted to ascertain whether the money to buy the Banigala properties came as per Mr Khan’s claims.

He said they had provided Mr Khan the opportunity to satisfy the court so it could reach a just conclusion, adding that they were not holding a trial, but inquisitorial proceedings.

Recalling a 1977 Rajasthan case where it was held that the court would always be the loser when it got itself into political thicket, the bench explained that the court was hearing the matter because allegations of dishonesty and corruption were involved.

“We are taking pains to establish the element of dishonesty,” the chief justice observed, reminding the counsel that several aspects not even mentioned in the original petition had been discovered by the court, such as the first instalment of Rs6.5 million, paid as a gift for the Banigala properties.

But the counsel argued that the court would not like to set new standards by providing the other side the opportunity to fill in the gaps or improve upon their earlier pleadings.

When the court said Mr Khan had not sought amendment in their pleadings, the counsel highlighted how the defendant had furnished fresh pleadings under Order 5 Rule 2(7,8) of the Supreme Court rules, which deals with either striking off their pleadings or seeking amendments to it.

But they had not pressed for it, the court said, adding that it would examine the inconsistencies in different statements.

When Advocate Naeem Bokhari, who represents Imran Khan, apologised for certain uncharitable remarks he made about the petitioner’s counsel on a TV programme, Akram Sheikh replied: “Allah will forgive you.”

But Justice Bandial tried to console the counsel by reminding him that Mr Bokhari’s conduct during the proceedings had been graceful and conducted very prudently.

The chief justice also observed that the judges had always praised the manner in which he conducted the case.

But Mr Sheikh recalled that he had submitted many applications to have the Hanif Abbasi case clubbed with the Panama Papers case. Had the two cases been heard jointly, this matter could also have been referred to the JIT for further investigation.

He regretted that new information was coming in on a daily basis, the latest being the surfacing of Euro accounts.

When we are looking for dishonesty, is the non-disclosure of assets not enough to find Imran Khan dishonest, the counsel asked, adding that he would move a fresh rejoinder highlighting the inconsistencies in all the statements Mr Khan had submitted to the court.

Earlier, Mr Bokhari claimed that his client had taken a consistent stand and was neither a dishonest man, nor had be committed any dishonesty. In the worst case, the matter might be sent for further inquiry, the counsel said, such as the authentication or notarisation of the documents from London.

The court, however, observed that the documents were not authenticated and that there were inconsistencies or a lack of continuity in them.

Mr Bokhari also told the court that he was suffering from high blood pressure, which was aggravated by his asthma, adding that doctors had advised him complete bed rest.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2017